Car thieves are looking for these models after learning through a viral video that they are easier to steal.
NEW ORLEANS — If you’ve heard of the “Kia Challenge,” which is especially gaining attention on TikTok, just know it’s not a fancy promotion from a car dealership. It’s a nationwide, social-media fueled trend targeting a vulnerability in certain cars.
And it’s happening in New Orleans. If you own a Kia or Hyundai you could be a target. Car thieves are looking for these models after learning through a viral video, they are easier to steal.
Bettina Bausa watching a movie late Sunday night inside her home in the Freret neighborhood in New Orleans, as right outside someone was breaking into her 2013 Kia Optima.
“We heard these two fire cracker noises and I ran to my window and I started screaming and crying and said, ‘Someone is in my car! Someone is in my car right now,'” she said.
It happened the night before too.
“Two nights in a row,” Bausa said.
The first time, she believes she accidentally left her car unlocked becuase the window wasn’t broken, but her belongings were thrown around with spare change missing. The second night is when someone smashed in her window.
“At first I thought it was two different groups of people, but I was like, what are the odds they would choose my car because no other car on my street was broken into,” Bausa said.
She then noticed part of her ignition was ripped out.
“I guess they were trying to take my car and a lot of people were like, ‘Have you heard of the Kia challenge?’ and I Googled it and found every state is having issues with that,” Bausa said.
The New Orleans Police Department told us here and nationwide, Kia and Hyundai vehicles are being targeted by car thieves ever since a viral video on social media showed how to steal the cars.
“Apparently there’s the ‘Kia boys’ is what they call themselves and I can’t believe there’s even a Tik-Tok algorithm that teaches you how to break into peoples cars,” Bausa said.
It happened to Juanita Blalock, a Chicago resident, too.
“You scuffle hard to pay your bills, get you a decent ride, and then somebody comes along and snatches up your ride,” Blalock said.
Criminals are targeting the models with a key ignition start, not a push start. In statements to CBS News, both Kia and Hyundai acknowledged the rise in thefts of their vehicles.
Hyundai said in part: “criminals are targeting our vehicles without engine immobilizers.”
An immobilizer is an electronic anti theft tool that prevents hot wiring by only allowing your engine to start with the correct key. They are standard in the majority of vehicles, but only became standard in all Kias this year and in Hyundai vehicles late last year.
“I feel like a target honestly,” Bausa said.
NOPD suggests Kia and Hyundai owners purchase an anti theft device like a steering wheel lock. That’s what Bausa did.
“I went to AutoZone and got this one for like $50,” she showed her new ‘Club’ lock that only allows her steering wheel to move if she unlocks it with a key.
Here are the full statements Kia and Hyundai sent to CBS News:
“Kia America is aware of the rise in vehicle thefts of a subset of trim level vehicles. All 2022 models and trims have an immobilizer applied either at the beginning of the year or as a running change. All Kia vehicles for sale in the U.S. meet or exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.
“Kia customers with questions regarding their Kia vehicle should contact the Consumer Assistance Center directly at 1-800-333-4542 (4Kia).”
“Hyundai Motor America is concerned about the recent rise in auto thefts of certain Hyundai model vehicles. While all of our vehicles meet or exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, unfortunately, our vehicles have been targeted in a coordinated effort on social media. Criminals are targeting our vehicles without engine immobilizers. Immobilizers became standard on all vehicles produced after November 1, 2021.
“In order to assist customers with earlier model year vehicles without an immobilizer, Hyundai has been working with and will continue to support local police departments to make steering wheel locks available for affected Hyundai owners. Additionally, Hyundai has identified a Firstech/Compustar security kit that targets the method of entry thieves are using to access these vehicles.
“Beginning October 1, 2022, this security kit will be available for purchase and installation at Hyundai dealerships and Compustar authorized installers across the country. Hyundai will provide additional details soon, and customers who have questions can always contact the Hyundai Consumer Assistance Center at 800-633-5151.”
Here is the full statement from NOPD with tips to prevent these crimes:
NOPD is aware of a recent nationwide trend involving social media postings of auto thefts specifically involving Kia and Hyundai model vehicles. NOPD has seen cases of such incidents reported locally in multiple districts and is actively investigating these incidents. This trend has not only been seen here, but in multiple major cities in the U.S.
In these types of cases, we primarily recommend that vehicle owners always lock and secure their vehicle when not in use. Utilizing additional anti-theft devices such as a steering wheel lock can add to the security of your vehicle by making it unable to be moved, while alarm systems also offer another layer of security.
Some general tips we can offer to help owners of these vehicles lessen the chance of becoming the victim of an auto theft or burglary include:
– Always lock and secure your vehicle when it is not in use.
– If possible, park in a secured and/or well-lit location.
– Do not leave your car unattended when it is unlocked or leave it unattended with the engine is running.
– Do not leave valuable items in your vehicle, if possible. If you must, stow away valuable items in secure spots in the vehicle that are out of sight.
– Do not leave keys to your vehicle or additional keys in your vehicle.
– Do not leave firearms in your vehicle. Many auto burglaries involve suspects who are searching for firearms.
– Utilizing video surveillance of your property can also help to secure yourself against such incidents or, if you do find yourself a victim, can be used by investigators.
– If you see a suspicious person or suspicious activity in the area of your vehicle or other vehicles, notify police.
Anyone who has any information regarding these or any auto theft incidents is urged to contact NOPD or to call Crimestoppers of Greater New Orleans anonymously at 504-822-1111.
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