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Spokane police providing anti-theft steering locks to Kia, Hyundai owners


(The Center Square) – Are the Kia Boyz back at it?

Spokane police are offering free anti-theft steering wheel locks to local Kia and Hyundai owners after seeing a recent increase in thefts involving those vehicle makes.

“SPD is actively investigating the thefts and is still recommending that owners contact their respective dealers to see if any modifications to lower the risk of theft can be made,” the department said in a news release.

Last September, SPD and the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office formed a task force to “combat the rampant theft and vandalism of Kia and Hyundai vehicles,” the police department said. That effort resulted in the arrests of several suspects involved in a theft ring.

In 2023, a total of 218 Kia and Hyundai vehicles were reported stolen within Spokane and countywide, officials said.

With the recent thefts, the Spokane Police Department is offering assistance to owners by providing the free locks, which they can keep. Interested persons can call SPD’s Crime Victim Advocates Office at (509) 625-4124.

SPD spokesperson Julie Humphreys said the police department received nearly 400 of the devices through a grant from the Washington Auto Theft Prevention Authority and is distributing them to Kia and Hyundai owners only – not other vehicle types.

“We put the word out through our social media and through media outlets and so far more than two hundred people have picked up or scheduled to pick up a club,” Humphreys said Thursday in an email to The Center Square.

She said the department has offered the devices, called clubs, in two phases: initially to theft victims whose vehicles were recovered by police, and now to other owners regardless of whether their vehicles had been stolen.

The clubs are a deterrent that help prevent future thefts, freeing up officers to focus on other areas of concern, while strengthening the relationship between the community and the police department, said Humphreys.

So-called “Kia Boyz” has become a term synonymous with the vehicle thefts. It refers to a loose, nationwide collective of teenage thieves responsible for stealing multitudes of cars in recent years using a particular hack initially popularized by social media posts on TikTok.

In early 2023, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that 3.8 million Hyundais and 4.5 million Kias had been targeted. Some went on to be involved in serious wrecks and fatality collisions.

Vehicles manufactured between 2011 and 2022 were particularly vulnerable to theft because their ignition switches could be easily bypassed, they lacked engine immobilizers, and certain models could be hotwired within minutes using a screwdriver and a USB cable, according to the District of Columbia’s Department of Insurance, Securities, and Banking.

As a result, insurance carriers in some states began refusing to write policies, deny coverage, and raise premiums as a result, according to the DISB.

Consumer protection groups and attorneys general across the country began calling for a nationwide recall and enhanced safety measures. Hyundai and Kia began providing free security software updates to affected owners, although thefts have continued.

Last May, the two Korean-based auto manufacturers agreed to a class action lawsuit settlement covering nine million owners that reportedly includes theft compensation and reimbursement for insurance deductibles and higher premiums.

A Seattle-based law firm, Hagens Berman, recently said a preliminary $145 million settlement was approved last October by a federal judge and a court hearing on final settlement is scheduled this July 15. Notices are expected to go out by March 4 to affected members of the lawsuit to begin making settlement claims. Payments would be delayed if there is an appeal, according to Hagens Berman.

The easiest way to deter car thefts? Always lock your vehicle, even if you’re only going to be gone a few minutes. Never leave your vehicle unattended with the engine running. Park in well-lit areas. Remove USB cables from vehicles when not in use. Consider purchasing steering wheel locks or other anti-theft devices.