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 gets a lot of attention on TikTok, know that it’s not a fancy car dealership promotion. It’s a nationwide social media-fueled trend that focuses on 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 watches a movie late Sunday night at her home in the Freret neighborhood of New Orleans, while someone broke into her 2013 Kia Optima just outside.
“We heard these two popping noises and I ran to my window and I started screaming and crying and saying, ‘There’s someone in my car! There’s someone in my car now,'” she said.
It happened the night before too.
“Two nights in a row,” Bausa said.
The first time she thinks she accidentally left her car unlocked because the window wasn’t broken, but her belongings were thrown around and loose change was missing. The second night is when someone smashes her window.
“At first I thought it was two different groups of people, but I was like, what are the chances they would pick my car because no other car on my street had been broken into,” Bausa said.
She then noticed that some of her inflammation had ripped out.
“I think they tried to take my car and a lot of people said, ‘Have you heard about the Kia Challenge?’ and I googled it and found that every state has problems with that,” Bausa said.
New Orleans police told us here and across the country that Kia and Hyundai vehicles have been targeted by car thieves since a viral video on social media showed how the cars can be stolen.
“Apparently there are the ‘Kia guys’ as they call themselves and I can’t believe there’s even a Tik-Tok algorithm that teaches you how to break into people’s cars,” Bausa said.
It also happened to Juanita Blalock, a resident of Chicago.
“You struggle hard to pay your bills, get you a decent ride, and then someone comes along and snatches your ride,” Blalock said.
Criminals target the key-start models, not push-start ones. In statements to CBS News, both Kia and Hyundai acknowledged the increase in thefts from their vehicles.
Hyundai said in part, “criminals are targeting our vehicles without immobilizers.”
An immobilizer is an electronic anti-theft tool that prevents hot wiring by allowing your engine to start with only the correct key. They are standard in most vehicles, but only became standard in all Kias this year and in Hyundai vehicles late last year.
“I honestly feel like a target,” Bausa said.
NOPD suggests that Kia and Hyundai owners purchase an anti-theft device, such as a steering wheel lock. That’s what Bausa did.
“I went to AutoZone and got it for about $50,” she showed off her new ‘Club’ lock that only makes her steering wheel move when she unlocks it with a key.
Here are the full statements Kia and Hyundai sent to CBS News:
“Kia America is aware of the increase in vehicle thefts of a subset of trim level vehicles. All 2022 models and trims have an immobilizer fitted, either at the beginning of the year or as an on-going change. All Kia vehicles sold for sale in the US, meet or exceed the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.
“Kia customers with questions about their Kia vehicle can contact the Consumer Assistance Center directly at 1-800-333-4542 (4Kia).”
“Hyundai Motor America is concerned about the recent surge in auto thefts of certain Hyundai models. While all of our vehicles meet or exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, unfortunately our vehicles have been the target of a coordinated effort on social media Criminals are targeting our vehicles without immobilizers Immobilizers became standard on all vehicles manufactured after November 1, 2021.
“To assist customers with vehicles of previous models without immobilizer, Hyundai has partnered with and will continue to support local law enforcement agencies to make steering wheel locks available to affected Hyundai owners. In addition, Hyundai has identified a Firstech/Compusar security kit that targets on the access method that thieves use to gain access to these vehicles.
“From October 1, 2022, this security kit will be available for purchase and installation at Hyundai dealers and authorized Compustar installers nationwide. Hyundai will provide additional details shortly and customers with questions can always contact the Hyundai Consumer Assistance Center at 800 -633-5151.”
Here’s NOPD’s full statement with tips for preventing these crimes:
NOPD is aware of a recent nationwide trend regarding social media reports of car thefts specifically involving Kia and Hyundai models. NOPD has reported cases of such incidents locally in multiple districts and is actively investigating these incidents. This trend can be seen not only here, but in several major cities in the US
In cases like this, we first of all recommend that car owners always lock and secure their vehicle when it is not in use. The use of additional anti-theft features such as a steering wheel lock can contribute to the security of your vehicle by preventing it from being moved, while alarm systems also provide an extra layer of security.
Some general tips we can offer to help owners of these vehicles reduce their chances of becoming a victim of car theft or burglary include:
– Always lock and secure your vehicle when not in use.
– If possible, park in a secured and/or well-lit place.
– Do not leave your car unattended when it is unlocked or leave it unattended with the engine running.
– If possible, do not leave any valuables in your vehicle. If necessary, store valuables in safe places in the vehicle that are out of sight.
– Do not leave your vehicle keys or extra keys in your vehicle.
– Do not leave firearms in your vehicle. Many car break-ins involve suspects looking for firearms.
– Using video surveillance of your property can also help protect yourself from such incidents or, if you do become a victim, can be used by investigators.
– If you see any suspicious person or activity near your vehicle or other vehicles, notify the police.
Anyone with information about these or other auto theft incidents is urged to contact NOPD or anonymously call Crimestoppers of Greater New Orleans at 504-822-1111.
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