Hagerstown falls victim to national TikTok trend targeting Kia, Hyundai cars

Hagerstown residents are feeling the impact of a national TikTok trend that has put a target on thousands of Hyundai and Kia vehicle owners.

The Hagerstown Police Department believes 21 incidents of vehicle theft and damage this year were the result of videos on the popular social media platform, according to department spokesperson Lt. Rebecca Fetchu. The videos show users how to exploit security flaws in newer Hyundai and Kia models.

Nationally, police departments have been combatting a rise in attempted and successful auto thefts after the videos emerged late last year demonstrating how 2011 through 2021 vehicle models can be hot-wired with something as simple as a cellphone charger.

Typically the offenders smash a window to gain entry into the vehicle and then use these methods to tamper with the steering column and ignition, HPD said in a Facebook post Monday.

"This is a nationwide trend but we are just now seeing this in the City of Hagerstown, largely in the North End community," the HPD post said.

Twelve of the incidents recorded by Hagerstown police occurred in May alone. Of the 21 total incidents, 17 were thefts and 14 were vandalism resulting from failed theft, Fetchu told the Herald-Mail. She said though the incidents are spread out across town, several have occurred along the Pennsylvania Avenue corridor and several near Pangborn Park.

"We have increased our patrols and we are actively contacting persons seen out walking at night," Fetchu said.

Baltimore sues Hyundai and Kia over auto thefts

Hagerstown has yet to suffer the brunt of this trend as major metropolitan areas report soaring increases in vehicle theft and damage. Baltimore City filed a lawsuit against Hyundai and Kia on May 11 saying the security flaws were partly to blame for the 95% increase in auto theft the city experienced compared to this time last year.

"We must demand more from these manufacturers in addressing this increase in vehicle thefts, which put victims and residents in harm's way," Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. "This lawsuit represents a first step in holding these manufacturers accountable and establishing necessary safeguards to improve the quality of life for our residents."

The Maryland Vehicle Theft Prevention Council first warned owners of affected models about the increase in a March statement, but in its own Facebook post, Hagerstown police said this is the first time related incidents have been seen locally.

Are similar thefts and damage being seen in areas outside Hagerstown?

The Washington County Sheriff's Office said there have only been four incidents of vehicle theft and damage with a possible link to the TikTok trend, according to spokesperson Sgt. Carly Hose. The incidents recorded by the sheriff's office occurred in various locations surrounding the Hagerstown area, Hose said.

"We continue to communicate with our law enforcement partners, and increase patrols in areas that could be or are near areas targeted by these criminals," Hose said.

She encouraged owners of Hyundai and Kia vehicles to download security software being offered by manufacturers in response to the increase in thefts.

The software extends the amount of time the car alarm sounds and requires the key to be in the ignition for the vehicle to start, combatting common methods of theft. More information can be found on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website.

Downloaders beware: Car thieves are still driving off with Kia and Hyundai cars, despite security fix

"We encourage community members to report suspicious activity, and those who own Hyundai or Kia vehicles to take advantage of the security upgrades being offered by the manufacturers," Hose said.

Additionally, Fetchu urged affected owners to contact their local car dealerships to see if they are eligible for free wheel locks to defend against theft.

This article originally appeared on The Herald-Mail: TikTok trend targeting Kia, Hyundai cars seen in Washington County