Analyzing a surge of Kia and Hyundai thefts across the U.S., authorities say the cars aren’t being stolen to make money, but rather have been fueled by social-media challenges targeting certain models of the cars because they are so easy to steal. The vehicles typically are used for joy riding or to commit other crimes, the Wall Street Journal reports. Models affected include Kias built between 2011 and 2021 and certain models of Hyundai between 2016 and 2021. Police from Atlanta to Seattle have warned about thefts of the cars, which are equipped with traditional keys and can be quickly stolen in part because unlike many other models, they lack a chip that would prevent them from starting when the key isn’t present. In Chicago, 601 Kias and Hyundais were reported stolen in August, compared with 58 in August 2021, says the Cook County Sheriff’s Office. “It really took off the last two months and now it’s exploded. I mean, the numbers are staggering,” said Sheriff Tom Dart. One of the first places to get hit by car theft was Milwaukee. The city is thought to be the base of groups such as the Kia Boys who made viral videos showing how to steal the vehicles. Police also found that teenagers and young adults were organizing into groups, putting out how-to videos on social media, creating songs and issuing challenges to others.
In St. Louis, 3,970 motor vehicles have been reported stolen this year through Aug. 29, up from 3,784 for all of last year. Some 48 percent of cars stolen were Kias and Hyundais which is significantly higher than the seven percent total in 2021. Last month, St. Louis officials threatened to take legal action against the two car makers. The companies are facing lawsuits seeking class-action status by owners in several states, alleging that the cars are defective. Recent models of the cars are equipped with a device called an immobilizer matched to a key with a chip that makes them harder to steal. “While no car can be made theft-proof, criminals are seeking vehicles solely equipped with a steel key and ‘turn-to-start’ ignition system,” Kia America said. Both companies said they have given away wheel locks to police to distribute to owners of the cars. Hyundai said it was offering a security upgrade that consumers would be able to buy starting in October.