TikTok running a challenge – people are abusing to steal cars

1. 05. 2023 | Samuel Slavík

On social media network TikTok is running a challenge that people are abusing to steal cars.

It’s a story so fascinating it’s hard to believe. Yet it is true. It was all supposed to start in late 2021, when police officers in the US city of Milwaukee began investigating car thefts by children as young as teenagers. It was later discovered that the little thieves, who were often as young as twelve, had learned to steal cars on TikTok, where instructions were circulated on how to start cars using only a cable to charge, say, a phone.

Not all makes of cars, however, but only those models made by the South Korean car companies Kia and Hyundai. In fact, they did not install an immobiliser in the basic versions older than four years with a conventional key to unlock and start the car, which prevents the vehicle from starting if the wrong key is inserted. This is what has proved fatal for some owners.

The unwilling drivers could just get inside, remove the steering column cover and insert the USB-A connector into the ignition socket. Then they could turn the connector like a conventional key and start the car. And with as many as 150 million people in the United States using TikTok, it was obvious that this manual could become a big deal.

Countless complaints flew around the Internet about how owners’ cars were disappearing from relatively safe places in front of their homes and being parked several blocks away, often crashed or vandalized. And even though TikTok’s management should have deleted every video with these instructions from their network, once something like this is created and circulated, there is no turning back.

The seriousness of the whole problem also got to the folks at Hyundai and Kia, who began offering owners of roughly eight million cars in the United States a free system update that would require a key in the ignition switch to start the car. But not all drivers drove to an authorized dealership to have the update installed. Car companies have also started offering free steering wheel locks, according to Bloomberg.

Virtually all U.S. states, not excluding New York, have struggled with the rise in thefts. And in its eponymous metropolis, the police department has now decided to offer help to exposed owners of these types of cars. New York City Mayor Eric Adams has announced that he will give away five hundred tracking devices from Apple. Just in case.

Specifically, a small AirTag puck that is typically used to track a bunch of keys, a trunk, a purse or a wallet. All you have to do is clip it to the item. In addition, the user has quite reliable control over his possessions, because he can see their location directly on the iPhone. In theory, he can also see the car if the AirTag is in it.

But there’s a catch – as soon as a person gets into a car (even a stolen one) and has an iPhone, they may receive a notification that an unknown AirTag is travelling with them. Apple made this option available last year for the very reason of preventing stalking. So the AirTag won’t realistically prevent theft, but instead may help police officers to find it.

But here’s another slight hitch – the NYPD won’t have real-time access to the AirTags it hands out. Or rather, it won’t be able to track them as the vehicle moves. So people affected by the theft will have to first notify the police department that their car has been stolen and then give authorities permission to track it.

Whether the help from Apple’s accessories will have a real impact is questionable, but New York City leaders hope it will at least partially curb thieves. This year alone, nearly a thousand Hyundai and Kia cars were to be stolen in the metropolis, more than eight hundred more cars of these brands compared to the whole of last year. Meanwhile, a total of 4,500 cars were reported stolen.

Author of this article

Samuel Slavík


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