Silence. This is what Sean Rose, 33, heard when he clicked his car’s electronic key in his apartment’s garage in Adelphi, Maryland, one morning in early August 2023. He was met with an empty parking spot where his car should have been.
He later found out through a security video camera that his 2020 Kia Rio had been stolen. Police were unable to relocate it
“It was a slow build from confusion to panic to anger, all sorts of emotions,” Rose said. “I worked hard for the money for that car and these kids came in and took it from me for what? ... It feels terrible.”
Rose’s car was one of about 600 vehicles stolen in Prince George’s County in August, according to a Capital News Service and Baltimore Banner analysis of Prince George’s crime data.
Amid a nationwide rash of vehicle theft, Prince George’s has one of the highest car theft rates in Maryland. Over 6,000 vehicles have been stolen in the county so far in 2023, according to the Prince George’s County Police Department. Vehicle thefts have nearly doubled since November 2022. Only Baltimore City and Baltimore County have higher per-capita rates this year. Montgomery County’s rate is about half of Prince George’s, but rising.
Vehicle thefts had averaged around 180 per month in Prince George’s County in 2021. By August 2022, 300 vehicles were stolen, rising to over 500 by December, peaking at 700 in July this year.
“It looked like a couple of kids who couldn’t have been more than teens,” Rose said, based on what he saw in the security footage. “The whole thing took maybe a minute if that.”
Captain Todd Dolihite, the assistant commander of the Strategic Investigations division for PGPD, confirmed this recent increase of stolen vehicles had been driven by juveniles alongside a social media trend that highlights how to steal vehicles made by specific manufacturers, particularly Hyundai and Kia.
Hyundai and Kia are being targeted by thieves because certain vehicle models have a manufacturing security flaw within them that allows them to be hotwired using a USB cord. Instructions on how to steal the vehicles have spread via social media sites such as TikTok and Instagram and fueled a nationwide trend.
Hyundais and Kias were by far the most common vehicles stolen in Prince George’s County in 2023. According to data from its Police Department, over 2,000 Hyundais and over 1,000 Kias have been stolen so far this year. The next highest was Toyota, with just under 400 stolen in 2023.
In response to the uptick in vehicle thefts, Dolihite said that the Police Department has been working with the manufacturers to hand out auto clubs and they recommended that Hyundai owners have their security systems updated at an auto-theft clinic held at RFK Stadium in July.
Faran Chaudhry, a resident of the Seven Springs apartment complex in College Park, said he had his car stolen in October 2023, even though he put a steering wheel lock in his car.
“I found out just a few months ago when one of our neighbors’ car got stolen … and that’s when I got the steering wheel lock,” Chaudhry said.
When Chaudhry’s 2016 Hyundai Sonata was stolen, he lost more than his car. He lost his income as a driver for Uber and Lyft.
“It’s more than an inconvenience, they’ve basically taken my entire livelihood,” Chaudhry said.
Ultimately, the police found Chaudhry’s car totaled, he said.
Thieves often use stolen vehicles to commit other crimes. Cars that are used in other crimes aren’t usually recovered in good condition, Dolihite said.
“About a 50% recovery rate on the vehicles is what we are seeing right now,” Dolihite said. “It’s no secret that a lot of the time they have a broken window. People break the window and then steal the car. As far as conditions, sometimes they are burned up and sometimes they are crashed … you name it, we’ve found it in those conditions.”
Auto thefts are affecting insurance rates in Maryland. Prince George’s County has the third highest annual premiums in the state, a Banner analysis of Maryland Insurance Administration sample insurance data found.
Ultimately, both Rose and Chaudhry say that they have lost their confidence in Hyundai and Kia.
“The main failure here is with the manufacturers,” Rose said.
Prince George’s County is not the only area in Maryland affected by increased vehicle thefts. Maryland State Police reported a nearly 50% increase in Hyundais and Kia thefts in April and, in May, Baltimore City announced that it was filing a lawsuit against Hyundai and Kia after auto thefts increased by 95%, with Hyundai and Kia representing over 40% of stolen vehicles.
This follows a national trend of vehicle thefts increasing across the country. According to data collected by Vice News, Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Los Angeles and other cities across the United States have seen a sharp increase in vehicle thefts in the last few years, largely of Hyundais and Kias.
Washington, D.C., had a 117% increase in car thefts as of July 26. Philadelphia and Chicago reported increases of 102% and 121%, respectively. This year, car thefts in Baltimore City are up 229% through Oct. 28, according to the Baltimore Police Department. During the peak of the auto theft crisis in July, police responded to over 25 auto theft incidents per 10,000 residents, more, by far, than any other county in the state with recent data reviewed by The Banner.
Prince George’s County Police hope to keep the vehicle thefts under control moving forward.
“Cars are being updated every day. So it is slowing down some but it has been going on now for at least a year,” Dolihite said. “As you can see it is a pretty big problem.”
This is a partner story with the Capital News Service, a student-powered news service at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism.