KENWOOD — Karen Perkins was having a typical Saturday night — until her partner noticed their 2019 Kia Sorento was missing.
Perkins, who lives on the Kenwood and Hyde Park border, thought her car had been towed because she saw no broken glass or other signs of a break-in. But she had no outstanding tickets, and her stickers were up to date. She and her partner realized the car had been stolen.
When Perkins reached out to her neighbors about the Aug. 6 theft, some of them shared surveillance footage and screenshots from other car theft victims — all of whom were Kia or Hyundai owners.
Kia and Hyundai thefts have spiked across the United States as authorities warn a viral TikTok video may be making older models of those cars especially vulnerable. In the video, a group dubbed the “Kia Boys” demonstrate how they steal the vehicles without a key.
The Cook County Sheriff’s Office issued a community alert last week saying thefts of Kias and Hyundais have “skyrocketed” throughout Chicago and the county, with 642 stolen cars reported since July 1. During the same period last year, 74 such cars were reported stolen.
“The increases are believed to be connected to the sharing of videos on social media that demonstrate how to start these vehicles without a key,” according to the sheriff’s office’s alert. “Thieves appear to be targeting unoccupied vehicles that require a physical key, not a starter button.”
Chicago police declined to comment.
It is not clear whether Perkins’ car was stolen in the way demonstrated in the viral video, but she said she and other neighbors whose cars were stolen suspected the trend as they shared stories and found news stories about similar cars increasingly being targeted in other cities.
“When I filed the police report, they confirmed that people were getting their cars stolen left and right, and a friend who’s a detective reiterated it,” said Perkins, who works for a nonprofit that teaches art to public school students. “They also told me that victims were recovering the cars, but they were severely damaged — some found left on the side of the road with the ignition still on, some gutted. Others have been crashing them.”
Perkins connected with Robin Newsome, of Bronzeville, whose car was also stolen Aug. 6.
Newsome was home resting after finishing a her shift as a dialysis technician when she noticed her 2014 Hyundai Elantra was gone. She, too, did not see any signs of her car being broken into, she said.
Newsome said two of her friends — Kia owners living in the same neighborhood — had their cars stolen the night before. She was four months away from paying off her Hyundai in full and was preparing to hand it down to her 21-year-old son, who was starting a new job in a few weeks, she said.
Now, Newsome’s scrambling to find transportation to and from work herself. With her job requiring her to travel to various cities and the cost of rideshares rising, the loss has had a financial and emotional impact on her, she said.
“It’s a huge inconvenience,” Newsome said. “Now that you don’t have a car, you have to do all these steps to get around. With my hours cut, I cut my insurance down to liability so I don’t even have coverage to get it fixed. Even if they recover it, I don’t know what I’m going to do. It’s stressful.”
Perkins was able to get her Kia back when she spotted a group of young people driving it past her house a few days later.
Perkins tailed the group to a parking space outside of Provident Hospital, where she called police for help. By the time officers arrived, the teens had already left, decamping to a nearby apartment building. As she was talking to an officer, one teen returned to the car, Perkins said.
“It was wild. She just walked right past and did it,” Perkins said. “They arrested her but not the others because there was no way to prove they were involved.”
The damage to the car was minor, but it will still take a lot of money to fix, Perkins said.
“They replaced the tires but not the plates. It was like they were trying to really keep it,” Perkins said.
Kias older than 2022 models and Hyundais made before November 2021 have been targeted because they do not have engine immobilizers, company officials have said. Both companies say they are working with local police departments to make steering wheel locks available to car owners for free.
Kia customers can call 800-333-4542 with questions. Hyundai owners can call 800-633-5151.
The sheriff’s office is encouraging Kia and Hyundai owners to install kill switches that render the vehicle inoperable without a separate key, car alarms with motion detection, steering wheel locking devices or vehicle tracking systems.
Car owners are also encouraged to fill out a consent form on the department’s website, which would help law enforcement agencies receive faster cooperation from car makers to track stolen vehicles. Those who fill out the form can also get stickers to display on their cars that would alert potential thieves that it can be tracked by investigators.
The stickers are available at all Cook County courthouses, according to the sheriff’s office.
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