The New York Police Department (NYPD) has announced it’s turning to Apple AirTags to help crack down on rising car thefts that are blamed on a TikTok challenge.
Mayor of New York City, Eric Adams, said in a recent press conference the NYPD is handing out 500 free AirTags to help vehicle owners keep track of their vehicle in the event of a theft.
Mayor Adams said there’s a link between the rise of car thefts in New York and the group of people in the US calling themselves “Kia Boyz” who post tutorials on how to steal certain Kia and Hyundai vehicles with a USB cable.
Both Hyundai and Kia have subsequently released a software update to address this theft vulnerability in the US.
This particular vulnerability isn’t present in Australian vehicles, however, with our government having mandated immobilisers in all new cars from 2001. These are now standard-fit on all US-market Hyundai and Kia models from 2022.
“You will see the spike that we are experiencing now is a large part of what’s happening on social media,” said Mayor Adams.
“When you go onto TikTok, they actually show in this challenge of stealing the car, they actually show how to use the everyday cord you charge your phone, how to jumpstart the car.”
NYPD chief John Chell said the city has had 966 stolen Hyundai and Kia vehicles this year so far, which is 819 more than the entirety of 2022.
“This is a simple AirTag hidden in a car at a location that a person is not aware of is an excellent tracking device. It’s easy to monitor,” said Mayor Adams.
“All of a sudden you get alerted that your car is moving. It’s actually showing you in real time where the car is located.”
It’s worth noting AirTags are typically used to tracks items like a suitcase, wallet or keys, but can come in handy when tracking down a stolen vehicle.
Despite this, Apple added a feature in 2021 that notifies iPhone users when an unknown AirTag is travelling with them to help combat stalking. This could potentially defeat the purpose of these tracking devices in this circumstance.
The NYPD won’t have access to the real-time location of the AirTags it’s giving away, with Mayor Adams noting that people will need to notify the police department that their car is stolen and then give permission to track their vehicle.
As previously reported, this method of stealing certain US-spec Hyundai and Kia vehicles required nothing more than using the stumpy end of a USB cable as a makeshift socket to turn the ignition and overriding the security after the plastic surrounds from the steering column.
It requires the criminal to find a vehicle with an open door, or smash a window to gain access to the interior. The method doesn’t circumvent an aftermarket immobiliser or alarm system, however the thieves can potentially avoid setting off the factory alarm by climbing in the window instead of opening the door.