Skyrocketing Car Thefts Traced to TikTok Trend, Police Say in New Warning

Specific makes are being targeted, and your car could be one of them.

Social media has its benefits, from keeping yourself informed to staying connected with friends and family. TikTok is one of the most popular platforms now, amassing 1.4 billion users worldwide. With so many users, ideas and trends are able to circulate rapidly and even "go viral." And while some trends have motivated people to pick up fun hobbies like baking bread or getting fit, others can cause more harm. Now, one TikTok trend has led to a spike in car thefts, according to police across the country. Read on to find out if your vehicle could be targeted, and what you can do to protect yourself.

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TikTok trends and challenges have become problematic for police.

woman using tiktok
diy13 / Shutterstock

TikTok trends also include "challenges," a subset of trends where users film themselves completing a certain task or action. Earlier this summer, police in Green Bay, Wisconsin, issued a warning about one of these challenges that involved realistic looking toy splatter guns. As part of the challenge, the gel splatter guns were used to shoot at others from cars and balconies, ABC30 Action News reported.

Both dangerous and illegal, police urged parents to be aware of these toy guns, as "they can still cause injury or damage," the Green Bay police stated. In Clovis, California, an 18-year-old was arrested after shooting a gel pellet from a vehicle while driving through a parking lot, and in another instance, a teenager in Jackson, Mississippi, was killed in a "prank gone wrong" involving one of these guns.

Now, another TikTok challenge has police concerned, and this time, social media users appear to be intentionally causing harm.

Teenagers are stealing cars for "street cred," police say.

woman realizes car has been stolen from garage
Dragana Gordic / Shutterstock

Police nationwide are warning the public about a rise in car thefts, which they say is due to a TikTok trend that demonstrates how simple certain cars are to steal. According to WPXI-TV, the trend is primarily being carried out by teenagers, who use USB cables to start and steal the vehicles.

"You've heard of all these challenges, things that are very dangerous," Jesse Minton, spokesperson for the Arlington Police Department in Texas, told ABC affiliate WFAA.

In a move that seems counterintuitive, the thieves will actually film themselves breaking into cars and post them on TikTok. "They get, you know, street cred, and a little bit of attention," Sergeant Cody Lance of the St. Petersburg Police Department in Florida told the Tampa Bay Times.

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Specific vehicles are at risk.

kia car in lot
Jonathan Weiss / Shutterstock

Police caution that certain makes are being targeted, namely Kia and Hyundai vehicles. According to the Miami Herald, the TikTok trend has been dubbed the "Kia Challenge," and vehicles were recently reported stolen in several states, including Kentucky, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Minnesota, and Virginia. The trend began in Milwaukee, but thanks to social media, other parts of the country have now seen copycat crimes.

"A collaborative group started out in Milwaukee, and it's spreading across the country where they're able to take these vehicles simply by using a cellphone charging cable and using that to start the vehicle," Tom Huerbin, Pittsburgh Police Sergeant, told WPXI-TV, noting that over 15,000 vehicles have been stolen in the Milwaukee area.

In Norfolk, Virginia, a 35 percent increase in Kia and Hyundai thefts was seen between July 1 and July 17, the Norfolk Police Department (NPD) confirmed to the news outlet WAVY. In Pittsburgh, 15 vehicles were stolen using USB cables—up from five that were reported in June, Huerbin told WPXI-TV. "So obviously it's on the rise in the area here, so it's of some concern," he said. "And we want to make people aware of that."

TikTok wants you to report any "Kia Challenge" videos.

hyundai logo on steering wheel
Roman Vyshnikov / Shutterstock

Hyundai and Kia have issued statements about the uptick in thefts, with both manufacturers adding that their vehicles "meet or exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards," per the Miami Herald and WPXI-TV.

"The safety and well-being of our customers and the community is and will remain our top priority," the statement from Hyundai reads. Kia confirmed that as of the 2022 model year, "all Kia vehicles have an engine immobilizer fitted as standard," while Hyundai said all of their "new" vehicles have these immobilizers as "standard equipment."

TikTok also addressed concerns about the trend, stating, "Content that promotes or enables criminal activity, including theft, is against our Community Guidelines and will be removed from the platform," per the Miami Herald. If you use TikTok and see one of these videos, you should also report them by clicking the white arrow to the right of the video, then selecting "Report" and "Illegal activities" as the reason, according to Newsweek.

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Kia and Hyundai drivers need to be on alert.

A senior man holding a smartphone with a concerned look on his face
Shutterstock

Police departments are asking car owners to be aware of these challenges, particularly those who drive newer Kia and Hyundai models. Kia vehicles made after 2015 and Hyundai vehicles made after 2011 are at risk, according to the NPD (via WAVY), as they have a "vulnerability" that lets thieves start them with a USB cord after removing the steering column.

In addition to general safety practices like parking your car in well-lit areas and keeping your doors locked at all times, police are asking that you take extra caution by investing in a steering wheel lock bar or security camera. You can also try parking your car closer to your home, Minton told WFAA, and avoid leaving your keys in the car or running when you're not in it.

Both Kia and Hyundai told the Miami Herald that customers can reach out to them with questions and concerns. You can reach Kia customer service at 1-800-333-4552, and you can call Hyundai customer service at 800-633-5151.

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