Some Christmas wishes really do come true.
A mother from Chicago was heartbroken when she couldn’t afford holiday gifts for her kids this year — until a secret Santa stepped-in.
Tina Swopes’ car was stolen earlier this year — and though her Kia sedan was found at a nearby gas station the next day, the car had been severely damaged and stripped of 25 spare parts.
“It’s not totaled,” Swopes told Chicago’s CBS 2. “I wish it was.”
The 2021 Kia Forte owner had become the latest victim in a crime trend mad popular on TikTok, which sees brazen social media thrill seekers — so-called “Kia Boys” — stealing cars and sharing the footage online. Both Kia and Hyundai cars are especially easy to hotwire thanks to a defect that makes their certain models particularly easy to hack.
Swopes’ car was recovered in October, but the car remains at the shop while mechanics await a bevy of parts currently on back order.
Her insurance only covered the car for 30 days, which has left the mother of two with repair and rental car costs — about $1,500 per month — piling up, despite Christmas lingering around the corner. On top of that, she continues to make $400 monthly payments on her car loan.
“It’s a burden on me because I don’t have the extra. Every time I reach out to Kia for help, they just read me a disclosure with an apology and that’s it,” Swopes alleged.
When someone in her community donated a Christmas tree to her family, Swopes was desperate for something to put underneath it. “I had a lady give me a Christmas tree, but still, I can’t put nothing under it for my kids.”
She then spoke to her local nightly news about her conundrum with Kia — and that’s when a true Christmas miracle occurred: a mystery viewer called Swopes to give her $400.
“She called me literally after it aired on the six o’clock news,” Swopes said to CBS. “She was going to make me cry, because I’ve never been in a situation like this where I needed help.”
Swopes has said she’s incredibly thankful for the Christmas kindness she’s experienced by some, but is fed up with Kia’s neglect — and she’s not the only one.
“I want Kia to take full responsibility for what’s going on,” Swopes said, and encouraged other victims to file a complaint with the Illinois Attorney General, as she has done.
From Jan. 1 to Nov. 25 2021, there were 290 Kias stolen in Chicago; this year, 3,573 Kias were stolen in the same time period, according to CBS News.
Kias are reportedly being targeted by thieves because certain models lack a security device to immobilize the vehicle when the car is being broken into, so that just a screwdriver and USB charger are needed to start the engine.
TikTok’s “Kia challenge” went viral earlier this year with videos showing mostly young men breaking into the cars, driving them recklessly and then abandoning them. The trend has since spawned the hashtags #KiaBoys and #KiaBoyz, which have more than 100 million views combined on the app.
One recent attempt to go viral allegedly led to the deaths of four teenagers in Buffalo, NY. The 16-year-old driver now faces manslaughter charges.
Government lawmakers are now considering taking legal action against the Korean automakers. Until then victims have taken it upon themselves to file complaints and sign onto class action lawsuits.
“Kia remains concerned about the recent trend among youth in some areas, encouraged by social media, to target certain Kia cars with a steel key and ‘turn-to-start’ ignition systems. In many cases, the vehicles are stolen solely for the purpose of operating in a reckless manner. Such criminal conduct endangers our local communities and violates property rights,” the company said in a statement to CBS News.
“While no car can be made completely theft-proof, Kia continues to make steering wheel locks available to customers through interested local law enforcement agencies, subject to available supply, at no cost to concerned owners of these vehicles.”