NEW YORK — New York City has a message for anyone emboldened by a viral TikTok challenge believed to be behind the rise in car thefts in all five boroughs and across the country: We’re picking you up.

It also contains a warning for Kia and Hyundai owners with affected models: Get a software update. It’s free.

The joint announcement Thursday by Mayor Eric Adams and New York City Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell aims to renew vehicle owners’ awareness of the so-called challenge. The challenge, which reportedly started in the Midwest, shows how easy it is to steal certain models from certain automakers due to a security breach.

Millions of vehicles – 3.8 million Hyundais and 4.5 million Kias, according to the latest federal update – lacked a key anti-theft device, sparking a wave of car thefts. It’s a known flaw, which is why both manufacturers have rolled out free security updates, but it’s also known to…everyone. People exploited the issue and made it public on social media, leading to a TikTok challenge that emerged in mid-2022 and, last Valentine’s Day, was blamed for at least 14 crashes and eight robbery-related deaths, according to National. Highway Safety Administration.

The same challenge was met with an October car crash in New York that killed four teenagers.

New York police say Kia and Hyundai thefts have skyrocketed 50% since the trend emerged. On Thursday, Sewell said New York police were first notified of the alarming increase in robberies in New York City in September. Prior to that, he says the city stole 10 to 12 such cars a month. She says the average rose to around 100 in December.

Most thefts have been in the Bronx, but northern Manhattan is also seeing an increase, Sewell added. It’s unclear how many wrecked vehicles are registered in New York, but the police commissioner said that number by itself doesn’t matter — she worries about every one of them in New York.

“We believe the teenagers are stealing them based on the drive-by video, but we can’t ignore the fact that there’s a possibility they could be used to commit a crime,” Sewell said, noting that most cars were believed to have been stolen as part of the trend have been found abandoned. “Obviously stealing them in itself is the crime, but there is a more dangerous crime that can happen in the future that we want to prevent.”

All it takes, as our sister network NBC New York previously reported, is a USB cable.

“When you look at this simple charging cable that we use now to charge our phone devices, it could be used to jump start a vehicle, jump start a car…so this technology is moving extremely quickly and law enforcement across the country make a valid attempt to follow,” Adams said. “But what’s advertised on social media today can get 2 million views and cross the country at such a rapid rate. And we’ve never seen that historically.”

“It is impacting our youth, and now we are witnessing a crime like this. These vehicles can be used in vehicle accidents where people are injured. They can be used in robberies, they can be used in other robberies,” the Democrat added. “And that’s why we really focus on that.”

According to Thomas Kelly, a detective with the NYPD’s Auto Crime Unit, the department has had about 109 arrests for stolen Kias and Hyundais as of March 26, and that’s only since the start of this year, he said. -he declares.

The targeted vehicles are very specific: Kias or Hyundais built during the last decade with traditional ignitions. A USB cable is the key to dragging the vehicle, even if it has little to do with technology. It’s just the right size to activate the ignition, Kelly said.

Police say all Kias and Hyundais built after 2021 come standard with anti-theft immobilizers, which don’t have the defect.

Here’s what the NYPD suggests you do if you own one of the older models, in addition to getting the upgrade:

  • Use a steering wheel lock
  • Always switch off the ignition and remove the keys when you leave your vehicle
  • Block all windows and doors
  • Activate your vehicle’s alarm system
  • Park in well-lit, high-traffic areas whenever possible

Asked what he thinks of the continued push from some members of Congress to ban TikTok for such security flaws, Adams said lawmakers really need to find a better way to monitor all social media platforms. , including this one.

“This is not the first challenge we have seen overcome,” the mayor said. “My feeling about this kind of simulated music that encourages violence, social media has altered the impact on our children’s lives.”

For its part, TikTok said it “does not condone this behavior, which violates our policies and will be removed if found on our platform.”

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