US police warn of TikTok challenge to steal cars using USB cable

Thieves are using USB cables and similar items to hot wire cars, turning them on without the ignition key. — Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash

Last Friday, an undercover Houston Police Department officer found a stolen Hyundai with a USB cord jammed into its ignition.

Police say there has been a rise in thefts of certain models of Kia and Hyundai cars in Houston, matching a stolen car TikTok trend. Sgt. Tracy Hicks with Houston Police Auto Theft Crimes Task Force said depending on the vehicle, a customer could prevent the problem with a software upgrade or a steering wheel lock.

Thieves are using USB cables and similar items to hot wire cars, turning them on without the ignition key. The cars are susceptible because lower end Kias and Hyundais don't have certain safety measures, allowing thieves to turn them on by jamming objects into the ignition.

"It really doesn't take any expertise to do it," Hicks said.

About 3.8 million Hyundais and 4.5 million Kias are susceptible to this sort of theft, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. At least 14 crashes and eight deaths are connected to the thefts, the agency said last Monday.

January saw 35 Hyundai Sonatas and 29 Hyundai Elantras stolen, Hicks said. The number of Kias stolen wasn't available, Hicks said.

Often people will take the car on a joyride and take videos for Internet fame, Hicks said. Prior to October, Kias and Hyundais weren't popular targets for theft, he added

"They're all 16- to 19-year-olds," Hicks said. "They're filming themselves and they're literally using these cars as bumper cars. They are trashing them."

Most vehicle thefts in Houston happen for the purpose of using the car in another crime such as a robbery, Hicks said. But this rash of thefts seems to be happening for the sake of fun and internet glory, making it a little outside the norm.

"They're literally bouncing off (parked) cars all the way, like literally they try to hit every car they can and they all giggle and they get the video... they eventually run over something and they disable the car, they jump out. One guy's filming them and they run off and giggle and laugh about how awesome they are."

Hicks said the thefts can be "devastating" to families and car owners who can't afford to replace their cars after the fact.

"What about a single mom?" Hicks said. "If you're driving a Hyundai or Kia, there's a reason you're driving a Hyundai or Kia. You don't have a lot a lot of money.... It's devastating to that mom. That's what hurts my heart." – Houston Chronicle/Tribune News Service

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