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Surge in Auto Thefts Tied to TikTok Video

A video posted on the social media platform TikTok has led to a "massive" increase in car thefts across many U.S. cities, the crime analyst Jeff Asher reports on Substack. The video showed users how to easily hotwire Hyundai or Kia vehicles produced over the last decade. The video was up for less than two weeks, but the impact on auto thefts throughout the nation has been immense. Of 33 agencies with publicly available incident-level data, 28 showed increases in the second half of 2022 over the first half, with seven agencies showing increases of more than 50 percent. Cities with enormous auto-theft numbers included New Orleans, Philadelphia, Chicago, Omaha, Washington, D.C., and St. Louis.


Data from two cities, Portland and New Orleans, point to the TikTok video as the heart of the problem. In Portland, the share of stolen vehicles that were Kias or Hyundais rose from 4 percent in January 2022 to 34 percent in December. While auto thefts fell slightly overall in Portland over the second half of 2022, the number of stolen Kias and Hyundais rose 672 percent in December 2022 relative to January 2022. In New Orleans, the number of thefts was significantly more extreme making up around 5 percent of stolen vehicles in the first half of 2022 to over half of all stolen vehicles in December. The data doesn't show what is being done with the stolen cars by offenders, though Portland’s dashboard shows that the vast majority (95 percent) of Kia/Hyundai stolen since July have been recovered. That’s higher than the share of all other vehicles that were recovered over that span (89 percent). While it is unclear how auto thefts will proceed, there are a finite number of Kia/Hyundai on the streets, and owner awareness of the problem will likely help these incidents come down over the next few months.

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