BELVIDERE, Ill. (WTVO) — In the last weekend alone, police say 10 Kia and Hyundai cars have been stolen in Winnebago County, and police say the thieves are young – some only 10-years-old – inspired by a TikTok trend.
Martin Rodriguez owns a 2020 Kia Sportage. On July 8th, he left home to take his dog for a walk and found the car had been broken into, the steering column smashed.
“First thought in the morning, I’m like, alright, am I going to have a car today? Am I going to be able to go to work today?” he said.
Winnebao County Deputy Chief Kyle Boomer says law enforcement has seen an increase in Kia thefts in more populated areas.
“You hear a little bit of it, and all of a sudden, it’s almost overnight, it became even bigger and I’m sure it’s because of the social media the TikTok and the ‘Kia Boyz’ and all that,” he said.
Boomer said a 10-year-old was among the suspects who have been arrested in the ongoing crimes.
“They have no respect for other people’s property, that they are going to go out and steal the cars and glorify it on social media, use it to put the public at risk and commit crimes,” he said. “It’s pretty disheartening.”
Police said certain 2011-2021 Kia models and 2015-2021 Hyundai models have a security flaw that kids, following a “Kia Boyz” or “Kia Challenge” TikTok trend, are able to exploit using a USB cable.
Rodriguez said he found a USB cord on the floorboards.
The phenomenon originated in Milwaukee, but now the crime is prevalent enough that Beloit Police recently urged residents to install a steering wheel lock or other anti-theft devices on their vehicles.
At least one class action lawsuit has been filed against Kia and Hyundai, claiming the cars do not comply with a Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard that requires cars to have an engine immobilizer that prevents activation of the engine and locks the steering column once the key is removed.
According to the lawsuit, “All a thief needs to do is strip the ignition column, exposing a piece that pops off, and then stick (in) a USB drive, a knife or some other similar tool, to start the vehicle without a key or code.”
In a statement, Kia America said it was “aware of the rise in vehicle thefts” and said its 2022 models have the immobilizer in place. Hyundai, also, said the engine immobilizers are standard in new vehicles.
Boomer said one of his greatest concerns was that some of the cars stolen are being used in other crimes.
“They’re not just stealing the car to go to work,” he said. “They’re stealing it to use it in a crime, do something dangerous with it. So, once the car is stolen, you know something bigger is on the horizon. So, I guess, the concern is: what are they going to use it for and who else is going to be put at risk, and how can we prevent it going down the road?”
Boomer also suggested Kia and Hyundai owners invest in a steering wheel lock and park in a garage or lighted area, near cameras, if possible.