We’ve all heard about the dark side of social media — from how it can negatively affect young people’s self-esteem to the rapid spread of misinformation, to cite just two examples. But now we also know that social media can be the culprit when it comes to crashes, crash fatalities, and vehicle thefts.
In 2022, thefts of Kia and Hyundai automobiles increased dramatically across the United States, and experts link those thefts to a TikTok social media challenge featuring “how to” videos that provide detailed instructions for stealing those vehicles. Moreover, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that the TikTok challenge also resulted in at least 14 reported crashes and eight fatalities.
But it’s not just TikTok. In fact, tutorial-type videos have appeared on YouTube and other social media platforms in recent times as well.
“Everyday consumers are being victimized by criminals using social media platforms to learn their newest illegal tricks and techniques,” said David Glawe, president and CEO of the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). “Some platforms are not doing enough to protect innocent victims from unnecessary harm.”
Since the tutorial-type videos began popping up on social media, many police departments across the U.S. have reported drastic increases in Kia and Hyundai thefts, according to the NICB.
Just consider these numbers. In Chicago, some 601 Kia and Hyundai vehicles were stolen in August 2022 — compared to just 58 in August 2021, reports the Cook County Sheriff’s Department.
Los Angeles didn't fare any better. Los Angeles police officials say the City of Angels experienced an 85% increase in Kia and Hyundai thefts in 2022 compared to 2021.
In St. Louis, nearly half (48%) of all 3,970 motor vehicles reported stolen in 2022 up through the month of August were Kia and Hyundai models. While in 2021, Kia and Hyundai models represented only 7% of total vehicles stolen year, notes the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.
Finally, in Milwaukee, where the original “how to” video was filmed, two thirds of the 5,144 vehicles stolen in 2021 up through July were Kia and Hyundai models, notes the NICB.
Insurance Industry, Automakers Take Action
The alarming increase in auto thefts linked to the “how to steal” videos on social media has led the insurance industry, safety advocates, and automakers Hyundai and Kia to take various actions.
In mid-January, several insurance industry associations announced that the misuse of social media platforms, like YouTube, by individuals and criminal organizations are contributing to the spike in illegal activity. To stave off future thefts, the NICB, Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, and International Association of Special Investigation Units sent a joint letter to YouTube chief executive officer Susan Wojcicki requesting the social media platform remove “how to” videos that provide detailed instructions for stealing Kia and Hyundai automobiles.
“Enabling criminals to share the tools and techniques of their trade through posting videos online adversely impacts all consumers,” said Celeste Dodson, president of the International Association of Special Investigation Units, in a press statement. “When a vehicle is stolen, it is often not the end of the crime, but the beginning. Vehicle thefts are associated with a multitude of criminal activity, including insurance fraud. The cost of these crimes is then passed on to consumers through higher premiums.”
In the letter to YouTube, industry leaders acknowledge that other social media platforms, including TikTok, need to do more to prevent these types of videos from being shared. However, YouTube has failed to remove many of these videos from its own platform.
Meanwhile, automaker Hyundai has taken prompt action. It should be noted that all Hyundai vehicles produced since November 2021 are equipped with an engine immobilizer as standard equipment. However, nearly 4 million earlier models are not equipped with push-button ignitions and immobilizing anti-theft devices. These vehicles are the ones that have become theft targets.
Hyundai Fights Back: 3 Solutions
To address the problem, Hyundai has provided three options for owners.
On Feb. 14, the automaker introduced a free anti-theft software upgrade to prevent the vehicles from starting when using the method of theft popularized on TikTok and other social media channels.
The technology upgrade was rolled out initially to more than 1 million model year 2017-2020 Elantra, 2015-2019 Sonata, and 2020-2021 Venue vehicles. The software upgrade will be available for the remaining 3 million eligible affected vehicles by June 2023.
Essentially, the software upgrade modifies certain vehicle control modules on Hyundai vehicles equipped with standard “turn-key-to-start” ignition systems. As a result, locking the doors with the key fob will set the factory alarm and activate an “ignition kill” feature so the vehicles cannot be started when subjected to the popularized theft mode. Customers must use the key fob to unlock their vehicles to deactivate the “ignition kill” feature.
The free upgrade is performed by Hyundai dealers and takes less than one hour for installation. Following completion of the upgrade, each vehicle is affixed with window decals to alert would-be thieves that the vehicle is equipped with enhanced anti-theft technology.
Secondly, Hyundai released a glass break sensor security that targets the method of entry used by thieves to break into these vehicles. These kits are available for purchase and installation at Hyundai dealerships and Compustar authorized installers across the country. The manufacturer suggested retail price for the kit is $170, and the estimated cost for installation may vary by location.
Finally, Hyundai continues to support local law enforcement by sending steering wheel locks to affected areas. According to NHTSA, both Hyundai and Kia have been working with law enforcement agencies to provide more than 26,000 steering wheel locks since November 2022 to 77 law enforcement agencies in 12 states.
Like Hyundai, Kia is also rolling out its free software updates in a phased approach. The company will begin to update vehicles in late February, with ensuing phases throughout the next several months, according to NHTSA.
As for the automakers’ direct efforts with social media outlets, Hyundai says it is taking action in this realm as well.
“Hyundai has been actively monitoring and requesting immediate removal of videos on social media that demonstrate this theft mode for certain Hyundai vehicles,” said Ira Gabriel, senior group manager, corporate and marketing PR, Hyundai Motor America. “We have succeeded in having this content removed from a variety of social media platforms, and we continue to monitor and seek removal of content showing this criminal activity as it reappears.”