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TikTok Trends: How to Protect Your Workplace When Theft Goes Viral

TikTok isn’t all dance challenges, makeup tutorials, and life hacks. It’s now a platform for “performance crimes,” where people film themselves committing theft and other criminal acts to go viral on platforms like TikTok. No matter your organization’s industry, TikTok trends make your workplace more likely to be a target for theft. Whether you manage personnel, keys, vehicles, inventory, or facilities, it’s important to be aware of TikTok’s real-world impact on physical security.

In this article, you'll learn: 

Why Theft Is Trending on TikTok

TikTok is known for viral content, but why do videos containing illegal or dangerous activities specifically gain traction so quickly? There are a few different reasons:

Content Moderation Challenges

TikTok has over 1 billion monthly active users, making it the fourth largest social media platform. The vast user base increases the likelihood of videos going viral, presenting content moderation challenges. In the first three quarters of 2023, the platform removed over 334 million videos for policy violations. Many of these videos depicted illegal activities and regulated goods. Unfortunately, the videos often aren’t removed before they go viral. As soon as they’re taken down, more crop up.

Addictive Algorithm

TikTok’s algorithm is designed to keep users not just engaged but addicted. It capitalizes on short attention spans, allowing users to quickly create, share, and consume content. The platform recommends content tailored to each user, feeding them an endless supply of entertaining, relevant videos.

Desensitization to Crime

The more users watch certain types of videos, the more TikTok’s algorithm recommends similar content. This repeated exposure to illegal activities normalizes theft.

Content creators contribute to this problem by downplaying the severity of illegal activity. For example, one recent trend is videos offering tips for shoplifting — which creators call “borrowing.” Using euphemisms makes it harder for users to grasp the legal and ethical implications of such behavior. It doesn’t help that these video clips don’t show the aftermath of criminal activity: being arrested, facing legal consequences, and harming others.

Peer Pressure

TikTok’s most prominent demographic is ages 10 to 19, accounting for 25% of U.S. users. At this age, people crave acceptance from peers. Clinical psychologist Mary Ann McCabe, a member of the American Psychological Association's board, says adolescents seek social connection on social media, but “accidentally wander into harmful content.” With the dangerous combination of peer pressure and underdeveloped self-control, young users are more likely to participate in social media challenges involving illegal activities.

Adolescents seek social connection on social media, but 'accidentally wander into harmful content.'

4 Factors That Increase Your Risk

How likely is it that your workplace will be targeted by TikTok users looking to go viral? If one or more of the following factors applies to your organization, your risk increases:

1. Young People Have Access to Your Facility

If your workplace is a school, retailer, or other organization adolescents frequently visit or have easy access to, it’s all but guaranteed they’ll be filming some kind of TikTok videos on your campus. Much of this content is likely innocuous, but some young people might be tempted to participate in theft challenges.

2. Your Industry Is Highlighted in a Trending TikTok Challenge

While TikTok trends could affect any organization, certain industries have been making the rounds in viral content promoting theft:

  • If you work in education, you’re probably familiar with 2021’s “devious licks” challenge, which encourages students to share videos of themselves vandalizing and stealing school property, usually bathrooms. (The slang “lick” refers to a theft with a rewarding payoff.)

  • In the retail industry, the “borrowing” trend mentioned earlier has people pilfering items from major stores and sharing their exploits on TikTok.

  • Residents in multifamily communities are attempting to use laundry amenities without paying, inspired by a woman’s viral video hack for washing her laundry for free. The method involves pressing a combination of buttons on a specific brand of washing machine, allowing her to start the washer without inserting her card.

Image collage depicting toilet overstuffed with toilet paper, young man shoplifting, and a hand pressing buttons on a washing machine


3. You Manage Items Targeted in TikTok Theft Challenges

If your organization owns or manages specific items trending in TikTok theft challenges, your workplace is more likely to be a target. Perhaps one of the most notorious TikTok trends is the “Kia Boys” challenge, where teens posted videos showing how to steal certain Kia and Hyundai vehicles with a USB cable. From 2020 to 2023, thefts of these vehicles increased more than 1,000%.

Vehicles with keyless entry — no matter the brand — are also susceptible to relay theft, where thieves hack the key fob’s wireless signal and unlock the car. Several creators have posted TikTok videos with the intent to warn others about this method, but they inadvertently give thieves new ideas. In one video, for example, a user commented asking for the name of the device the thieves are using.

4. Employees Overshare on Social Media

The TikTok hashtag #worktok has soared to nearly 2 billion views, giving influencers a platform to share “day in the life” videos and work-related content. Known as workfluencers, these creators can generate positive attention for their industries, careers, and employers. But oversharing poses significant risks.

For example, a former TikTok employee took followers on a tour of the company’s headquarters after being laid off. She filmed herself using her keycard to enter the building, roaming various areas of the office, and stuffing several snacks and a company lanyard into her bag.

Videos that reveal the inside of your facility, work routines, or internal processes make your workplace more vulnerable to theft. Even if an employee has good intentions, a thief can exploit seemingly innocuous shots, such as by using a screen capture of a facility key on a desk to make an unauthorized copy.

Videos that reveal the inside of your facility, work routines, or internal processes make your workplace more vulnerable to theft.

As you navigate the potential risks tied to TikTok challenges, being mindful of the factors that increase your organization’s vulnerability can guide you in protecting your workplace.

How to Protect Your Workplace From TikTok Theft Trends

When theft goes viral, protecting your workplace becomes more challenging. An effective physical security strategy depends on your industry and the specific risks you’re addressing, but there are some general guidelines that provide a solid foundation for any organization to stay prepared.

For more tailored recommendations, find your industry in the charts below. You’ll learn what items are most likely to be stolen, types of TikTok trends to track, and a few high-level security tips.

General Guidelines

  • Monitor Social Media Trends: Track relevant TikTok trends by regularly browsing the platform, using a social media monitoring tool, browsing industry forums, or requesting input from employees.

  • Layer Security: Protect vulnerable areas with various security measures, such as key management systems, access control, alarms, security cameras, lighting, and parking lot barriers.

  • Monitor Inventory: Secure high-value items and keys and conduct regular audits.

  • Train Employees: Provide regular security awareness training, emphasizing best practices for key control, social media use, and reporting suspicious behavior.

Recommendations for Your Industry

K-12 Education
Most-Stolen Items

Equipment, bathroom supplies, personal belongings from lockers/classrooms

Trends to Track "Devious licks" and related challenges featuring schools
Security Tips
  • Increase supervision around restrooms and common areas.

  • Keep equipment, supplies, and classrooms locked up when not in use and maintain accurate key access logs with a key control system.

  • Collaborate with parents and local law enforcement on strategies for preventing student participation in dangerous/illegal social media challenges.
Higher Education/Residence Life
Most-Stolen Items

Equipment, bathroom supplies, personal belongings from dorms

Trends to Track "Devious licks" and related challenges featuring schools
Security Tips
  • Increase staff presence in high-risk areas.

  • Lock up vulnerable items (e.g., equipment, bathroom supplies).

  • Secure keys, fobs, and access cards in an electronic key control system.
Most-Stolen Items


Trends to Track

"Borrowing" and other shoplifting-related challenges; trends targeting specific retail brands or items

Security Tips
  • Implement as many deterrents as possible, including signage, mirrors, strategic store layout, and display cases for frequently stolen items.

  • Train employees on loss prevention techniques, including how to recognize suspicious activity and handle shoplifting incidents. 

  • Consider AI-powered anti-theft technology, whether it’s next-generation video surveillance or security robots.

  • Store any employee keys, fobs, access cards, tablets, or other items in a secure key and asset management system.


Most-Stolen Items

Laundry services, golf carts, residents’ vehicles, items from storage units

Trends to Track

Apartment living hacks, relay theft, and other automotive theft challenges

Security Tips
  • Communicate with residents about your community’s policies and the consequences for not following them.

  • Let residents know about any issues with theft, and remind them to secure their vehicles and property.

  • Secure and track all spare keys to residents’ homes, storage units, and mailboxes.

  • Use a GPS tracking and theft recovery solution to be notified if someone is using golf carts without authorization.
Most-Stolen Items

Vehicles, parts, auto repair tools

Trends to Track

"Kia Boys" challenge, relay theft, and other automotive theft challenges

Security Tips


Fleet Management
Most-Stolen Items

Vehicles, trailers, cargo

Trends to Track

"Kia Boys" challenge, relay theft, and other automotive theft challenges

Security Tips


Being Prepared When Theft Goes Viral

With the rise of performance crimes on TikTok, your workplace is more likely to be a target for theft challenges — no matter your industry. Although no one can predict what trend will go viral next, understanding the platform’s dynamics is crucial for protecting your personnel, keys, vehicles, inventory, or facilities. By being aware of your organization’s risk factors, increasing security measures, and fostering a culture of awareness, you can stay one step ahead of viral theft trends.

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