East Windsor

Social Media Challenge Could Prompt Uptick in Connecticut Car Thefts

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A new social media challenge is giving thieves a quick way to steal some cars, according to officials. One local police department says the technique may have been used in a recent theft.

In this instance, police say locking your car and taking your keys with you isn’t stopping this. Thirty seconds or less is how long it takes for someone to steal a car.

Certain Hyundai and Kia vehicles are the target, and early Sunday morning at a Walmart parking lot, East Windsor Police believe they may have seen their first case.

“There was a suspect walking around the parking lot, and as soon as the victim pulls into a parking spot, a short time later, less than two minutes, he comes over to the vehicle. He’s able to pop the door to the vehicle, the vehicle was locked, and steal the car in just about 25 seconds,” said East Windsor Police Lt. Matthew Carl.

Police say the 2018 black Hyundai Santa Fe hasn’t been recovered but that it fits the pattern.

“Both of the keys for the vehicle were still in the owner’s possession. The vehicle was locked. The car was stolen very quickly. It fits the type of make and model of the vehicles in that TikTok challenge. We don’t know for sure, but it fits the MO,” Carl said.

Investigators say thieves use a USB charger cord to steal vehicles.

Hyundai and Kia models that use turn-to-start ignition systems instead of push-button-to-start systems are at risk. Both companies say they’re concerned about the increased thefts that target vehicles without engine immobilizers. Hyundai says those immobilizers are standard on their vehicles made after Nov. 1, 2021. Kia says all 2022 models have them.

Both companies say they’re working to support law enforcement and make steering wheel locks available for affected car owners. Hyundai adds there’s also a security kit that will be available for purchase at the beginning of October.

“We’ve increased patrols throughout the Walmart area. We do that pretty typically anyway because it’s a high-travel area in town,” Carl said.

In addition to that, police put the word out on Facebook. They say there are certain steps car owners can take like having an alarm system or steering wheel lock to make it more difficult for thieves.

Hyundai Motor America issued the following statement about the thefts:

"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."

Kia America issued the following statement about the thefts:

"Kia America remains concerned about the increase in auto thefts of a subset of Kia vehicles. It is unfortunate that criminals are using social media to target vehicles without engine immobilizers in a coordinated effort. All of our vehicles meet or exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. While no car can be made theft-proof, criminals are seeking vehicles solely equipped with a steel key and “turn-to-start” ignition system. The majority of Kia vehicles in the United States are equipped with a key fob and “push-button-to-start” system, making them more difficult to steal. All 2022 Kia models and trims have an immobilizer applied either at the beginning of the model year or as a running change. Kia America has provided steering wheel lock devices at no cost to law enforcement in affected areas to deter vandalism and theft. That effort will continue in close coordination with local police departments for distribution to concerned owners of Kia vehicles not originally equipped with an immobilizer. Kia customers with questions regarding their specific vehicle should contact the Consumer Assistance center directly at 1-800-333-4542(4Kia)."

A TikTok spokesperson released the following statement.

“TikTok does not condone this behavior which categorically violates our policies and will be removed if found on our platform.” 

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