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Someone broke into Ian Evans' garage in late December, busting his window and then accessing his steering column to steal his 2013 Kia Rio EX.

"It was a big scramble to get a rental, to get the police report filed ... to figure out where [the car] was," said Evans, a University of Minnesota staff psychologist. "It is a violating feeling."

Evans is among thousands of Kia and Hyundai owners whose vehicles were stolen in Minneapolis or St. Paul in 2022 — something Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said happens far too often.

On Tuesday, Ellison announced he's launching an investigation into the vehicle thefts.

The civil investigation will look into whether the two car companies are violating Minnesota's consumer protection and public nuisance laws because they don't have the anti-theft technology most other cars do, making them easy to steal, Ellison said at a news conference.

The cars "might as well have a giant bumper sticker that says 'steal me' on them," Ellison said.

More than 3,200 Kia and Hyundai vehicles were stolen in 2022 in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Theft of the vehicles became a massive problem in the United States last year after social media revealed the vulnerability of vehicles that use a traditional metal ignition key. In what was dubbed the "Kia Challenge," teens were prodded to steal the cars.

Until recently, Kia and Hyundai didn't include "engine immobilizer" technology, which keeps a vehicle from starting without the vehicle's "smart" key, in many of their vehicles sold in the United States.

Ellison said he served "civil investigative demands" on the companies, which will require them to produce documents and answer questions under oath.

He was joined by Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter and leaders from both cities' police departments.

Ellison said the Minnesota Attorney General's Office will "probably" be the first in the country to file a civil suit against the companies.

Tied to other crimes

Last week, Ellison, Frey and Carter shared data showing the number of Kia and Hyundai thefts had exploded — up 836% in Minneapolis and 611% in St. Paul in 2022 — and called on the companies to recall the vehicles.

Crime often follows the initial theft. In Minneapolis, the thefts have been tied to five homicides, 13 shootings and 256 motor vehicle accidents.

In July, 70-year-old Phoua Hang of St. Paul was killed in a hit-and-run by the driver of a stolen Kia Sportage. A 14-year-old died in December after being injured in a one-car crash in Minneapolis, city officials said, and a month later, a teenager driving a stolen Kia died after being shot and crashing the car in north Minneapolis.

All Hyundais made after November 1, 2021 have immobilizers as standard equipment. All Kias had immobilizers either at the start of 2022 or during that model year.

Both companies said they're working to solve the problem by offering car owners free equipment and software upgrades.

Hyundai officials said they are "committed to the security of our customers" and plan to continue supporting communities affected by the crimes. They "appreciate and share" the interest of Ellison, Carter and Frey in addressing the thefts.

"We recently announced the launch of a free software upgrade to prevent the theft mode popularized on social media; we will also soon launch a program to reimburse eligible customers for their purchase of steering wheel locks," Hyundai said in a news release.

Kia also said it "remains concerned" about the thefts, a news release said.

The company has been "releasing enhanced security software" to keep thieves from operating ignition systems on Kia models that don't have an immobilizer. Kia is notifying owners by mail when the free software upgrade is available and directing them to the nearest dealership.

Some owners have already gotten the update; it should be available to more cars over the coming months, the company said. Kia has also been making steering wheel locks available to car owners through police departments.

Putting profits first?

Carter said that the thefts have affected more than just individual owners — they have affected and traumatized entire communities.

The "profit-driven decision making" of Hyundai and Kia is to blame, Carter said.

Car thieves must be arrested and prosecuted, Frey said, but he noted that if the companies simply made vehicles with the same anti-theft devices nearly all other cars have, the thefts could be prevented.

"You should not be the target for a theft or a crime simply based on the car that you own," he said.

South Minneapolis resident John Cosgrove said he also blames Hyundai for the crime wave that engulfed his car.

Cosgrove has had his Hyundai Tucson stolen twice this winter, with thefts in December and February. In August, thieves tried to steal it but succeeded only in breaking the steering column.

Less than a week passed between when Cosgrove got his repaired car back in late February and when it was stolen again from outside his house.

"The fact that it's been broken into three times in six or seven months tells me that the thieves aren't the problem," he said.

It's back in the shop now after the most recent crime, with parts on back order, he said. His insurance company is weighing whether to continue insuring the car.

Cosgrove said he hopes for a recall because he likely can't sell the vehicle.

"It's taken too much of my time," he said.