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Kia, Hyundai thefts using USB cords on the rise in TikTok trend

Many Hyundai and Kia models share the same platforms and hardware.

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Many Hyundai and Kia models share the same platforms and hardware.

Police in the US are warning car owners of a TikTok challenge that is inspiring car thieves to target Hyundai and Kia vehicles by exploiting a manufacturing defect that allows them to easily be hot-wired with a USB phone charger cord.

The trend, amplified in instructional videos on the social media platform TikTok, is not new, but law enforcement officials say they are seeing an uptick in thefts.

In Prince George’s County in Maryland, a suburb of Washington, DC, that has seen a spike in vehicle thefts since the onset of the pandemic, police said thefts of Kia and Hyundai vehicles have accounted for nearly one-sixth of all thefts in 2022 and nearly half of all thefts so far in 2023.

Prince George’s County Police Department detectives on the Washington Area Vehicle Enforcement (WAVE) team arrested a 17-year-old this month who police said was driving a stolen Kia Optima. The department said detectives found a USB charging cord on the driver’s side floorboard that they believe was used to start the stolen car.

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The TikTok trend and the wave of stolen vehicles following it have sparked such a backlash, including dozens of lawsuits, that both Hyundai and Kia have announced plans to address the security defect and remedy the vulnerability for the vehicle owners. In one class-action lawsuit filed in California, the complaint against the companies asserts that “Kia and Hyundai’s vehicles are so easy to steal, teenagers and children as young as 11 years old are stealing and joyriding cars, and posting their exploits on social media , including one TikTok video that has over 33 million views.”

Fully electric models like the Kia EV6 and Hyundai Ioniq 5 are less likely to be targeted.

Damien O’Carroll/Stuff

Fully electric models like the Kia EV6 and Hyundai Ioniq 5 are less likely to be targeted.

Police departments nationwide have been raising alarms about the thefts. In August, law enforcement officials in Los Angeles issued an alert on the trend, saying it is “growing in popularity and police departments across the nation are experiencing this as well.” Chicago police issued a similar advisory the same month, reporting an “astounding” increase in vehicle thefts because of the TikTok challenge.

The TikTok videos show how inserting a USB cable into the steering column of some makes of Kia and Hyundai vehicles allows people to start the cars without a key, in part because the vehicles lack immobilizing technology.

In response to the “increasing thefts targeting our vehicles without push-button ignitions and immobilizing anti-theft devices,” Hyundai made engine immobilizers standard for all vehicles manufactured since November 2021, a company spokesperson said in a statement. Hyundai also plans to make a software update available beginning in March, free of cost, the spokesperson said.

The Kia Seltos is among the vehicles that have been targeted in the US.

Supplied

The Kia Seltos is among the vehicles that have been targeted in the US.

In a separate statement, Kia said it is concerned about the “trend among youth in some areas” to target its cars that have a steel key and traditional ignition system and said it will have a similar security software update available “in the near future. ” All 2022 models have immobilizer technology, the company said.

Both manufacturers are working with select local law enforcement agencies to provide steering wheel locks to Kia and Hyundai owners affected by the issue.

Since late November, Fairfax County, Virginia, police have received 24 reports of stolen Hyundai vehicles and 13 reports of stolen Kia vehicles, according to a Wednesday news release. Sgt. Jim Curry said the social media challenge played a role in the uptick.

“The assumption has to be that the individuals committing these crimes probably learned it from that TikTok trend. Absolutely,” Curry said.

Prince George’s police said Kia and Hyundai owners should consider purchasing a brake pedal club, alarm or other theft-prevention device to protect their vehicles from the TikTok trend.

“We encourage residents to remove charger cords from their vehicles or at least hide them,” the department said in a statement

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