Shopkeepers love Lego. The colourful plastic toys are a gold mine for criminals

New York

The LEGO fan base, which includes kids, teens, and adult collectors, has seen some unpleasant characters get involved, and for all the wrong reasons.

Lego products, particularly high-end sets priced anywhere from $100 to $1,000 or more, are increasingly targeted for theft by both individual shoplifters and large organized retail crime gangs who steal sets from stores because they can fetch handsome profits when resold, both legally and illegally.

Miguel Zuniga, who runs the Bricks & Minifigs Lego resale franchise store in Lumita, Los Angeles County, is still dealing with the theft that occurred on June 18.

The Lego theft happened around 5 a.m. Tuesday.

“I was sleeping and the ADT security system called me. Then my wife got a call. I went straight to the cameras and saw we were being robbed,” Zuniga told CNN.

He got back to his store within 10 minutes, but the thieves had left — he estimates they'd stolen about $5,000 to $7,000 worth of Legos.

Retail crime experts told CNN that stolen Lego sets are easy to resell, they are usually difficult to trace and can fetch close to the original retail price if they are in good condition and unused. Even used sets in good condition can sell for as much as 50% of the original price.

Courtesy: Miguel Zuniga

On June 18, robbers broke into Miguel Zuniga's Bricks & Minifigs store in Lomita, California, and stole thousands of dollars worth of LEGO products.

In recent months, looters have stolen Legos in several states.

Earlier this month, police in California arrested two men in connection with a retail theft ring that allegedly stole thousands of Lego toys from several retailers in Southern California, according to CNN affiliate KABC.

LAPD detectives recovered more than 2,800 boxes of Lego toys, with retail values ​​ranging from $20 to $1,000 per item, the report said, citing a police statement.

In Philadelphia, police reported a series of Lego set thefts from retailers such as Barnes & Noble and Target in recent months, with each stolen set valued at $250 to $1,000. Target told CNN it had no information to share about Lego thefts at its stores. Barnes & Noble did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

And north of the border, in Richmond, British Columbia, police seized more than 1,000 stolen toys in March. The stolen items included more than $150,000 worth of Lego sets and other plush toys.

While exact figures are hard to come by, experts say Lego sets are among the top 10 most stolen retail products, along with branded denim, handbags, designer shoes, Olay skincare and Apple products.

“Lego is unique. The brand is always innovating its offerings, always staying on trend with pop culture and special edition sets,” said Reed Hayes, a criminologist at the University of Florida and director of the Loss Prevention Research Council, whose members include Walmart, Target, Home Depot and the Gap.

Hayes told CNN that his team works with most of the retailers that sell Lego products, as well as Legoland theme parks. “The demand is always there.”

As a result, not only is the market for stolen LEGO products growing, but so is the market for counterfeit products, particularly online.

Michael Blackshear/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

LEGO pieces are on display for customers at Bricks & Minifigs in Pasadena, CA on Thursday, June 13, 2024. The store has not been burglarized, but store owners are paying close attention to their security system.

Casey Slaughter is a Captain with the Wichita, Kansas Police Department and Chief of the Property Crimes Bureau, and is very familiar with LEGO crimes.

“Lego toys are one of the most stolen items in our area,” Slaughter told CNN. “Any retailer that sells the Lego brand is susceptible to theft, but we also have Lego-specific secondhand stores that have popped up as resellers. They're being targeted.”

He said it's easy money for Lego thieves. “It's hard to trace where they're stolen from,” he said.

According to data provided to CNN by the police department, between January 8, 2024 and May 7, 2024, Wichita police investigated 19 Lego thefts. According to the data, the thefts included sets based on the Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Back to the Future movies.

When contacted for comment, Lego referred CNN to online resources on its website to provide consumers with information on how to spot fake online Lego stores and counterfeit Lego products.

There have been thefts at several Bricks & Minifigs stores in California since April.

“This is probably our fourth or fifth attack that's primarily Lego-related. They happen very quickly, within 30 seconds to a minute,” Capt. Calvin Mah of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's Major Crimes Bureau said in an interview with CNN, referring to the robbery at Zuniga's store.

“Watching the surveillance video, I could see they were targeting specific Lego sets. They knew exactly what they were looking for. They wanted high-end and high-value sets, rare or collectible sets,” he said.

Zuniga became emotional while speaking to CNN about the robbery.

Miguel Zuniga

Miguel Zuniga captured the June 18 theft at the store on his security camera.

After cleaning his shop on the day of the theft, Zuniga went home to shower.

“When I came back I sent a bat signal to the community to come and support us in our time of need,” he said. Customers came, some even donating their own Lego sets. They bought Lego sets that were on sale at the local Target to fill empty shelves.

“At 9 a.m., the first customer who came in was a 71-year-old man who has built some of the most expensive Lego sets,” Zuniga said, his voice cracking and he cried. “He's our local legend. He came in with tears.”

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