Thefts of Kia and Hyundai vehicles have surged across the country after a dangerous "challenge" went viral on the Chinese-owned video app TikTok.
Viral TikTok videos provide instructions on how to hotwire models of 2010-21 Kia and Hyundai vehicles that use a key, not a push button or key fob. The ability to hotwire these models is apparently so easy that youngsters have turned it into a challenge.
Teenage boys, some barely old enough to legally drive (or even see over the steering wheel), are breaking into these cars, removing the steering column and key slot, using a USB cable to turn the ignition, unlock the steering wheel, and start the vehicle in under a minute.
Those vehicles are vulnerable to theft because there are no factory-installed anti-theft devices known as immobilizers (RFID transponder embedded in a key that allows the vehicle to recognize the owner's key).
This dangerous TikTok challenge has turned into a game for teenagers:
"It's becoming a game even though there is nothing funny about it," George Glassman, president of the Glassman Automotive Group in Detroit, told FOX 2.
Detroit Police Department Lt. Clive Stewart said kids steal the Kia and Hyundai vehicles with their buddies and go on joyrides.
Investigators told CNBC the TikTok challenge started last year and has spread nationwide.
Police in St. Petersburg, Florida, reported that a third of all cars stolen since mid-July were connected to the viral social media challenge. Los Angeles officials said Hyundai and Kia thefts were up 85% compared with last year.
In Chicago, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said, "We see no end in sight" to the TikTok-fueled thefts.
"In our jurisdiction alone, [thefts of certain models are] up over 800% in the last month.
"The viral nature of how this has taken off on social media — it's accelerated this like we've never seen ... [The perpetrators are] doing it in 20 to 30 seconds. It literally is as old-fashioned as you can imagine, Dart said.
He added: "We had an 11-year-old who was one of our most prolific stealers … the notion that they can drive is a fantasy."
CNBC said thieves post videos of stealing the vehicles on the social media platform using the hashtag "Kia Boys"...
In Charlotte, North Carolina, there has been a 346% increase in Kia and Hyundai thefts since last year, according to Axios. Thefts in Omaha, Nebraska, for those cars jumped 600% compared to the previous year.
In St. Paul, Minnesota, Kia thefts were up 1,300% compared to last year, and Hyundai thefts were up about 600%, according to FOX 9 Minneapolis.
There are countless more metro areas and counties across the US reporting several hundred to more than 1000% increase in thefts for Kia and Hyundai vehicles over the last year.
A Kia spokesperson told CNBC:
"It is unfortunate that criminals are using social media to target vehicles without engine immobilizers in a coordinated effort."
News stories across about stolen Kias and Hyundais have erupted over the last year.
Also, many of these youngsters play violent video games (such as Grand Theft Auto) for hours per day, making them used to violence and eventually become physiologically numb to it.
Social media plus violent video games is a toxic combination for youth -- don't even get us started on psychiatric drugs...