Since 2020, the number of motor vehicle thefts reported by the Rochester Police Department has hovered around 120 thefts a month. Those numbers have soared so far this year.
Last month 336 motor vehicle thefts were reported. January saw a record high of 348 incidents. A national TikTok trend, “the Kia Boyz Challenge,” appears to be a contributing factor.
Perpetuated by teenagers, the challenge targets Kia and Hyundai car models. A TikTok video, uploaded Feb. 14, shows two men driving around with the words “Rochester NY Kia Boys at it again.” The men in the video zoom in on the steering wheel column of the car, indicating that it was hot-wired using a USB cable.
On the same day this video was uploaded, the RPD made an announcement in response to the 348 motor vehicle thefts that occurred in the city within January. The department explained that when examining more than 1,100 motor vehicle thefts since the start of 2022, 450 were Kia and Hyundai models. To prevent further theft, the department handed roughly 700 steering wheel locks to city owners of 2010-2020 Kia and Hyundai models.
The targeting of Kia and Hyundai model cars likely has been accelerated through social media, particularly TikTok. One video from a Milwaukee resident showed how her Kia was hot-wired using an iPhone charger.
The video hit 2.2 million views and received more than 6,000 comments from other TikTok users sharing similar experiences. By the end of 2022, a variety of videos of people hotwiring cars and retelling stories of their cars being stolen from all over the country began to hit viral status.
The fuel for this national challenge appears to be the ease of the car theft itself. Car models that require mechanical key fobs, such as Kia and Hyundai models, can be stolen by breaking in, popping off the steering wheel column and hot-wiring the car using a USB cable. This makes the theft quick and inexpensive.
In recent years, this increase in motor vehicle thefts has coincided with a shift southward in reported incidents, from the Clinton patrol section to Goodman. The Lake patrol section also remains a high incident area. As for the thefts reported thus far in 2023, 22 percent come from the Genesee section and 25 percent come from the Goodman region.
The Genesee portion–Plymouth-Exchange and 19th Ward neighborhoods–includes apartments and off-campus housing for University of Rochester juniors and seniors. In an email to the student body on Jan. 23, the University of Rochester Department of Public Safety indicated an increase in car theft throughout the city and on university property “in large part because of a TikTok challenge.”
This email was followed by community alert flyers being hung throughout the Brooks Crossing Apartments and Riverview Apartments, both housing areas operated by the university along South Plymouth Avenue.
Using a QR code, the flyers link directly to a University webpage on car theft which states, “some Hyundai and Kia cars and SUVs are missing an important anti-theft device, making them an easy target for car thieves,” and “there have been a handful of thefts and attempted thefts in University parking lots as well.”
The number of reported motor vehicle incidents by RPD in February was much higher than the previous decade-high 89 set in 2021.
Evan Coleman is a student at the University of Rochester. Jacob Schermerhorn, Rochester Beacon contributing writer, assisted with this article.