A customer uses his phone while shopping in the 5th Avenue Lego store in New York
Lego thefts are on the rise in Wichita, with 19 reported between January and May 2024. Reuters

Lego sets have emerged as a prime target for shoplifters, rivalling the theft rates of high-demand items like handbags and iPhones. The colourful plastic building bricks cherished by children, teenagers, and adult collectors alike are drawing the attention of criminals for all the wrong reasons.

The expensive Lego sets, often priced over £100 and sometimes exceeding £1,000, are particularly attractive to thieves. Both individual shoplifters and organized gangs are increasingly stealing these items directly from stores, aware of the substantial profit they can gain from reselling them, whether through legal or illegal channels.

This growing trend is not surprising, given the high resale value of Lego sets.

Wichita Sees Spike In Lego Thefts

Lego collectors and resellers have reported making returns as high as 400 percent in a year by buying and reselling Lego sets. This high potential profit makes them a tempting target for theft. On June 18th, thieves targeted a Bricks & Minifigs Lego resale franchise store in Lumita, Los Angeles County.

The break-in occurred around 5 am, and the stolen Legos are estimated to be worth between $5,000 and $7,000. "I was asleep, and the ADT security system gave me a call. Then my wife got a call. I went straight to the cameras and saw we were being robbed," Miguel Zuniga, who operates a Bricks & Minifigs Lego resale franchise store in Lumita, told CNN.

The store owner arrived within 10 minutes, but unfortunately, the burglars had already fled the scene. This is part of a larger trend of Lego thefts in California. According to retail crime experts, stolen Lego sets are attractive because they're easy to resell.

Unlike other stolen goods, Legos are difficult to trace and can command high prices, especially if they're unopened and in mint condition. Even used sets in good shape can still fetch half their original retail value, making them a lucrative target for thieves.

This Lego theft isn't an isolated incident. In recent months, reports of Lego robberies have emerged from several states. Earlier this month, California authorities apprehended two individuals believed to be part of a retail theft ring targeting Lego sets.

According to CNN affiliate KABC, the ring is suspected of stealing thousands of Lego toys from various Southern California retailers. LAPD detectives seized a massive haul of over 2,800 Lego boxes, with individual sets valued between $20 and exceeding $1,000, according to a police statement.

Philadelphia police have also reported recent Lego thefts at stores like Barnes & Noble and Target. The stolen Lego sets ranged in value from $250 to $1,000 each. Target declined to comment on these thefts, and Barnes & Noble has not yet responded to inquiries.

Adding to this trend, police in Richmond, British Columbia, seised a trove of over 1,000 stolen toys in March. The haul included more than $150,000 worth of Lego sets and other plush toys.

One Of The Most Shoplifted Items

While obtaining precise data is challenging, retail crime experts suggest Lego sets consistently rank among the top ten most stolen retail items, alongside sought-after products like designer shoes, handbags, branded denim, Olay skincare products, and Apple devices.

"Lego is unique. The brand is always refreshing their offerings, always on trend with tie-ins to pop culture and special edition sets," said Read Hayes, a criminologist at the University of Florida and the director of the Loss Prevention Research Council, whose members include Walmart, Target, Home Depot and Gap.

According to Hayes, whose company works with numerous Lego retailers and Legoland theme parks, the demand for Legos is ever-present. This strong demand fuels not only a black market for stolen Lego sets but also a flourishing market for counterfeit Legos, particularly online.

Further fueling the trend, a 2023 study surprisingly suggests that Lego sets can be more lucrative investments than traditional options like wine, art, or even gold. While leading the Wichita, Kansas, police department's property crimes bureau, Casey Slaughter, a captain, gained significant experience in investigating property crimes, including those involving Lego.

"We see Lego toys as one of the more frequently stolen items in our area," Slaughter told CNN. "Any retailer selling the brand is susceptible to Lego theft, but we also have a couple of Lego-specific secondhand stores that have popped up as resellers. They're being targeted."

The Serious Side Of Lego Theft

He said Legos are easy money for thieves. "They're difficult to track where they were stolen from." Wichita Police had their hands full with Lego crimes in the first few months of this year! According to data released to CNN, they investigated 19 Lego thefts between January and May 2024.

The stolen loot included sets featuring popular movie franchises like Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Back to the Future, suggesting the thieves knew exactly what they were after.

When contacted by CNN, Lego pointed consumers to their website's resources to identify counterfeit Lego stores and products. This comes as several Bricks & Minifigs stores in California have been targeted by robbers since April.

"This is probably our fourth or fifth hit that deals mainly with Legos. They happen quickly, 30 seconds to a minute," Captain Calvin Mah with 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.

"In watching the surveillance video, I could see them targeting specific Lego sets. They knew exactly what they were looking for. They wanted the high-end and high-value sets, the rare or collectible ones," he said.

Having finished cleaning his store earlier that day, Zuniga left for 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 rallied around Zuniga's store, some even donating their own Lego sets in a heartwarming display of support. Zuniga also took advantage of Lego sales at the local Target to replenish his stock.

"At 9 am, the first customer that came was a 71-year-old who has built some of the most expensive Lego sets," Zuniga recounted. "He's our local legend. He showed up in tears."