An uptick in vehicle thefts to gain social media notoriety.
By Kristen Shapiro
The desire to be accepted, and the consequent peer pressure that accompanies it, is part of the human experience. For a subset of the population, this desire is amplified by the potential for notoriety on social media platforms. Constant strings of new trending videos on social media challenge users to recreate similar content to gain as many viewings as possible by performing popular choregraphed dances, lip synching, dumping ice water buckets over themselves, and more. Unfortunately, not all challenges circulating on these platforms are innocent, or in some cases legal.
Social Challenge Fuels Thefts
A group of teenagers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, referring to themselves as the “Kia Boys,” began posting videos in 2021 demonstrating how to quickly steal certain model Hyundai and Kia vehicles. Thefts of these vehicles saw a drastic increase in the Milwaukee area. Theft data from the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) shows that there were 542% more Hyundai and Kia thefts in 2021 in the Milwaukee-Waukesha, WI core-based statistical area (CBSA) than in the prior year. By May 2022, the videos went viral and quickly spread beyond Wisconsin to states across the nation.
Hyundai and Kia vehicle thefts surged nationwide in the summer of 2022, increasing 95% from 2021. Los Angeles, Denver, and Chicago were among the top cities with the highest number of Hyundai and Kia thefts in 2022, and of the top theft locations across the country, the Memphis, TN-MS-AR CBSA saw the highest theft percentage increase of Hyundai and Kia vehicles from 2021 to 2022 of 653%.
Stolen for the Thrill
The trending Kia Challenge enticed teenagers across the country, many of whom were not even old enough to obtain a driver’s license, to film themselves stealing Hyundai and Kia vehicles. The viral videos exploited certain 2011–2021 Kia and 2015–2021 Hyundai vehicles not equipped with engine immobilizers. Without these anti-theft mechanisms to prevent the vehicle from starting without the appropriate key inside, thieves are able to rip open the steering column and start the vehicle. A May 2023 press release issued by Hyundai estimated that 9 million Hyundai and Kia vehicles on the road in the U.S. lack engine immobilizers, making them targets of this theft trend.
The targeted vehicles are most often stolen to use for joyriding and to gain notoriety on social media. Once stolen, the vehicles are driven recklessly through neighborhoods, often causing accidents, injuries, and sometimes even fatalities. Eventually the damaged and vandalized vehicles are abandoned. In Florida, the St. Petersburg Police Department has reported an uptick in Hyundai and Kia thefts. Recently, a Kia stolen in St. Petersburg was found in Pinellas Park, FL, after two 12-year-olds driving the vehicle crashed into a fence and ran from the scene.
Insurance Industry Responds
As a result of the skyrocketing theft numbers, dozens of insurance companies have increased rates or denied coverage for select Hyundai and Kia vehicle models in certain parts of the country. In response, Hyundai partnered with a carrier in April 2023 to implement a program offering insurance options to owners of susceptible vehicles who are unable to secure automobile insurance.
Hyundai and Kia are providing free wheel locks to eligible owners of targeted vehicles through local law enforcement agencies and direct shipments. Thefts in Milwaukee have continued decreasing since August 2021 after a steering wheel lock program was announced in July 2021, allowing Hyundai and Kia owners who live, work, or attend school in Milwaukee to obtain a free steering wheel lock from the Milwaukee Police Department, provided by the vehicle manufacturers. Analyses of NCIC data found a 33% decrease in Hyundai and Kia vehicle thefts in the Milwaukee-Waukesha, WI CBSA from 2021 to 2022, a trend that has continued into 2023. Similar programs have since been initiated in other high-impact areas across the country to combat Hyundai and Kia thefts. In May, Hyundai stated that over 65,000 steering wheel locks had been distributed.
To combat the problem from a tech angle, Hyundai and Kia started rolling out free anti-theft software updates to affected customers earlier this year. The update extends the length of the theft alarm and utilizes the vehicle’s key fob to activate an ignition kill feature that can only be deactivated when the same fob unlocks the vehicle. Once equipped with the update, vehicles are provided stickers to help deter would-be thieves. In mid-May, Kia stated that over 3 million owners and lessees, covering more than 96% of eligible vehicles, had been notified of their eligibility for the upgrade and that all Hyundai owners should have been notified by the end of the month.
Legislative Efforts to Protect Consumers
Despite the efforts made to combat Hyundai and Kia thefts, nationwide theft numbers continue to rise. Attorneys general in 18 states sent a joint request in April 2023 urging the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to recall millions of Hyundai and Kia vehicles, citing a public safety crisis. The NHTSA has since denied the request, stating that the theft trend did not meet the criteria for a national recall.
New York City recently filed a lawsuit against Hyundai and Kia, joining a growing list of cities spanning from coast-to-coast that have done the same. The lawsuits all similarly assert that the vehicle manufacturers caused an epidemic of Hyundai and Kia thefts by failing to equip certain models with engine immobilizers that have become industry standard in the past two decades. They allege that the manufacturers’ decision to cut costs and boost profits was done at the expense of public safety.
In May, Hyundai and Kia reached an agreement to settle a class-action lawsuit filed against them. The agreement, pending preliminary approval, could be valued up to $200 million and will provide compensation to consumers for theft-related losses not covered by insurance and reimbursement for insurance deductibles and increased premiums. The settlement requires anti-theft software updates to be installed on any eligible vehicle that is being serviced at Hyundai or Kia dealerships and provide reimbursement up to $300 for the purchase of anti-theft devices to owners with susceptible vehicles that are not compatible with the update.
NICB has also joined in the fight against the rise in Hyundai and Kia thefts. The organization sent letters to social media companies requesting that the videos related to the Kia Challenge be removed and are working to combat the problem with our industry partners and local law enforcement agencies.
“NICB works closely to keep our manufacturing partners informed of ongoing theft issues, discuss theft trends, and educate them on issues facing law enforcement,” said Rusty Russell, NICB’s Director of Vehicle Operations. “We also partner with law enforcement to raise awareness of crime trends and participate in anti-theft campaigns.”
Addressing this problem is not just the responsibility of one group. NICB remains committed to working with our partners in law enforcement, the insurance industry, and vehicle manufacturers to park this theft issue across the country.
Chapman, M. (2023, June 7). New York City goes after Hyundai, Kia after security flaw leads to wave of social media fueled theft. Retrieved from Local10. com: https://www.local10.com/ business/2023/06/07/new-york-city- goes-after-hyundai-kia-after-security- flaw-leads-to-wave-of-social-media-fueled-theft/
Hyundai and AAA Insurers Collaborate to Offer Insurance Options for Customers Affected by Method of Theft Popularized on TikTok. (2023, April 13). Press Release. Retrieved from Hyundai Media Center: https:// www.hyundainews.com/en-us/releases/3810
Hyundai Motor America and Kia America Resolve Consumer Litigation in Response to Vehicle Thefts. (2023, May 18). Press Release. Retrieved from Hyundai Media Center: https:// www.hyundainews.com/en-us/releases/3838
Mitchell, B. (2023, April 22). 2 minors arrested after hit-and-run crash involving stolen SUV in Pinellas Park, police say. Retrieved from WTSP 10 Tampa Bay: https://www.wtsp.com/ article/news/local/pinellascounty/two-arrested-hit-and-run-crash-pinellas-park/67-5cdc1287-af02-46ed-819c- 5e39f9e77e56
Some auto insurers are refusing to cover certain Hyundai, Kia models over high theft risk. (2023, February 3). Retrieved from Welsh 2: https://www.wesh.com/article/kia-hyundai-car- thefts/42761396
State of California Department of Justice Office of the Attorney General. (2023, April 20). Press Release. Retrieved from Attorney General Bonta Leads States Calling for Recall of Theft-Prone Hyundai and Kia Vehicles: https://oag. ca.gov/news/press-releases/attorney-general-bonta-leads-states-calling-recall-theft-prone-hyundai-and-kia