Due to viral videos posted on TikTok and other social media platforms, teaching people how to start cars with USB cables and exploit a security vulnerability in some models, several Kia and Hyundai cars were stolen.
Jonnifer Neal’s Kia was stolen twice in one day — first from in front of her Chicago home and later from outside the mechanic shop where she took it to get fixed.
But Neal’s ordeal didn’t end there. After her car was recovered a month later, she was stopped by police twice coming home from work because a police error caused the Optima to remain listed as stolen. The same error resulted in officers waking her up at 3 a.m. another night. On yet another occasion, a swarm of officers pulled her over as she was traveling to Mississippi, handcuffing and placing her in the back of a cruiser for more than an hour.
The Kia now sits in her garage.
“It’s been a few months, but honestly I’m still nervous,” Neal said. “I drive that car maybe once in a blue moon and I loved that car.”
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Neal’s story is one of thousands from Kia and Hyundai owners across the country whose cars were stolen or damaged in the past two years.
The sharp uptick has been linked to viral videos, posted to TikTok and other social media platforms, teaching people how to start the cars with USB cables and exploit a security vulnerability in some models sold in the U.S. without engine immobilizers, a standard feature on most cars since the 1990s preventing the engine from starting unless the key is present.
But unlike some social media-driven trends that seemingly disappear just as police get a handle on them, the car thefts have continued. Hyundai has tried to work with TikTok and other platforms to remove the videos, but as new ones surface fresh waves of thefts occur, illustrating the lingering effects of dangerous content that gains traction with teens looking for ways to go viral.
It’s a phenomenon known as performance crime. Police departments in a dozen cities have said it factors into an increase they’ve seen in juveniles arrested or charged with car thefts. Still, criminology experts caution that the role teens are playing in the theft increases — which began during the pandemic and aren’t limited to Kia and Hyundai — may be artificially inflated because teenagers inexperienced at crime are more likely to be caught.
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