CHICAGO (CBS) -- A national crime trend involving Kias and Hyundais is hitting the Chicago area hard – with thefts more than quadrupling in Cook County.
In light of the crime trend, law enforcement wants everyone to know what's going on and how best to protect themselves and their cars.
CBS 2's Tara Molina talked Thursday with one woman whose Kia was just stolen. The woman, Juanita Blalock, said she wishes someone had warned her.
Blalock's 2020 Kia Sportage was parked steps from her West Englewood neighborhood home around 3 p.m. Sunday – and suddenly it was gone. Blalock said she was home with her blinds open for a view of the street the whole time.
The theft was close - and it was quick.
"I just thank God that I wasn't in the car," Blalock said. "You know?"
But the mess the 81-year-old has dealt with since has been its own problem.
"I'm a senior," Blalock said. "I'm on fixed income."
Having to file reports with the police, deal her insurance company, and also given the increased cost of a replacement? It hurts.
"You scuffle hard to pay your bills, get you a decent ride," Blalock said, "and then somebody comes along and snatches it up."
Blalock wishes she had parked her car in her detached garage that rainy Sunday after church. She wants to warn others now - because she isn't alone.
We found that from July 1 to Aug. 10, 642 Kias and Hyundais have been stolen in Cook County. Last year in the same period, there were just 74.
This amounts to a 767 percent increase.
The bar graph below shows the trend this year compared with last year going back to January.
"This whole issue has exploded," said Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.
Sheriff Dart said it is important people know about it while they work to crack down on every aspect of the crime.
"It's just one of those things where folks have to be aware that this not just a minor anomaly where you have this type of vehicle slightly more susceptible than others," Dart said. "No, this one's off the charts."
In an alert released Thursday, the Cook County Sheriff's office said the trend of thieves targeting Kias and Hyundais is believed to be connected to the sharing of videos on social media that show how to start such vehicles without a key.
Thieves appear to be targeting cars that require a key rather than a starter button, the Sheriff's office said.
Meanwhile, Blalock had her Kia Sportage for less than two years, and is told a new car to replace it will be far more expensive.
"Price is way up from a year a half ago," she said. "So I don't know if I go out and get me a new car – or do I wait and let the prices go down?"
Blalock has a message as she prays for a call from police, or a replacement car she can afford for her car.
"Watch your car. Watch your back," she said. "There's one thing for sure - you can get another car, but you can't get another life. God bless you all."
So why aren't the car manufacturers warning people about this, or offering solutions? Neither of them addressed that question, but they did each issue statements.
"Kia America is aware of the rise in vehicle thefts of a subset of trim level vehicles. All 2022 models and trims have an immobilizer applied either at the beginning of the year or as a running change. All Kia vehicles for sale in the U.S. meet or exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.
"Kia customers with questions regarding their Kia vehicle should contact the Consumer Assistance Center directly at 1-800-333-4542 (4Kia)."
"Hyundai Motor America is concerned about the recent rise in auto thefts of certain Hyundai model vehicles. While all of our vehicles meet or exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, unfortunately, our vehicles have been targeted in a coordinated effort on social media. Criminals are targeting our vehicles without engine immobilizers. Immobilizers became standard on all vehicles produced after November 1, 2021.
"In order to assist customers with earlier model year vehicles without an immobilizer, Hyundai has been working with and will continue to support local police departments to make steering wheel locks available for affected Hyundai owners. Additionally, Hyundai has identified a Firstech/Compustar security kit that targets the method of entry thieves are using to access these vehicles.
"Beginning October 1, 2022, this security kit will be available for purchase and installation at Hyundai dealerships and Compustar authorized installers across the country. Hyundai will provide additional details soon, and customers who have questions can always contact the Hyundai Consumer Assistance Center at 800-633-5151."
The Sheriff's office advised that owners of Kia and Hyundai vehicles take steps such installing aftermarket immobilization devices – or kill switches – that render a car inoperable without a separate key. Car alarms with motion detection, steering wheel locking devices, and vehicle tracking systems are also advised.
"There might be some things you might want to look into," Dart said. "Obviously, go to our website on tips and things you can do. But there are some old-school things people used to do, like the Club and things like that, are things that can prevent this."
The Sheriff's office also asked that Kia and Hyundai owners fill out a consent form on their website that allows law enforcement agencies to obtain the cooperation of vehicle manufacturers to track stolen cars more quickly. Car owners who sign the consent form can also get a sticker to place on their cars warning would-be thieves that the car is being tracked by investigators.
The stickers are also available at all Cook County courthouses.
The National Insurance Crime Bureau reported it has been aware of an increase in thefts of Kias and Hyundais around the country since 2019. The organization noted that vehicular crimes, carjackings, and catalytic converter thefts are nearing all-time highs, and nearly 1 million vehicles were stolen last year alone.
The bureau did not have any information specific to Illinois about Kia and Hyundai thefts, but they did have information on our northerly neighbors. In Wisconsin, the NICB's 2021 Hot Wheels report indicated that seven of the top 10 most stolen vehicles were Kias and Hyundais.
In order, they were the Hyundai Elantra, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Kia Forte, Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson, and Kia Soul. A total of 1,006 Hyundai Elantras were stolen in 2021 alone, the NICB reported.
By contrast, none of those vehicles were among the most frequently stolen the NICB 2020 Hot Wheels report for Wisconsin.
The NICB offered the following theft prevention advice, some of which reiterated what Dart advised:
- Practice good security hygiene.
- Make sure your auto policy is up to date.
- Roll up your windows, lock your doors, and take the keys or fob.
- Park in well-lit areas and, when possible, areas staffed by security personnel and further protected by surveillance cameras.
- Remove valuables from your car or keep valuables locked in your trunk or out of sight under a rear deck cover.
- Consider adding an immobilizing or tracking device for your vehicle.
Should your vehicle be stolen, call law enforcement and your insurer immediately. NICB data shows that reporting a vehicle as soon as possible after it is stolen increases the chance of recovery.
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