Lego sets are routinely among the most stolen items at retail.
New York CNN  — 

Lego’s fanbase, which famously cuts across kids, teenagers and grownup collectors, is seeing some unsavory characters break into the mix, and for all the wrong reasons.

Lego products, especially the pricier sets that range from over $100 to $1,000 or more, are being targeted for theft both by individual shoplifters and larger organized retail crime rings who make a beeline for sets sitting on store shelves because they can fetch a good profit at resale both in legal and illegal channels.

Miguel Zuniga, who operates a Bricks & Minifigs Lego resale franchise store in Lumita, Los Angeles County, is still dealing with a break-in on June 18.

The Lego heist happened around 5 am that Tuesday morning.

“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,” Zuniga told CNN.

He got to his store within 10 minutes, but the burglars were gone – with about $5,000 to $7,000 of Legos, he estimates.

Retail crime experts told CNN that stolen Lego sets are easy to resell, they’re typically hard to trace and they can fetch close to the original retail price if in mint condition and unused. Even used sets in decent shape can go for 50% of the original price.

Robbers broke into Miguel Zuniga’s Bricks & Minifigs store in Lomita, California on June 18, and stole thousands of dollars worth of Lego products.

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

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

LAPD detectives recovered more than 2,800 boxes of Lego toys with retail value of $20 to over $1,000 per item, the report quoted a police statement as saying.

In Philadelphia, police logged a series of Lego set thefts in recent months at retailers such as Barnes & Noble and Target, with stolen sets valued from $250 to up to $1,000 each. Target told CNN it did not have any information to share on 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 in March seized a haul of more than 1,000 stolen toys. Among the stolen goods were more than $150,000 worth of Lego sets and other plush toys.

Among the most stolen products

Although hard data is difficult to come by, experts said Lego sets are routinely 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 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.

Hayes told CNN his team works with a majority of retailers that carry Lego products as well as Legoland theme parks. “Demand is always there.”

As a result, there’s not only a market for stolen Lego products but also a burgeoning counterfeit market, especially online.

Lego pieces are displayed for customers at Bricks & Minifigs on Thursday, June 13, 2024 in Pasadena, CA. The store has not been robbed, but the store owners are paying close attention to their security apparatus.

Casey Slaughter, a captain with the Wichita, Kansas, police department who heads its property crimes bureau, is very familiar with Lego offenses.

“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.”

It’s easy money for Lego thieves, he said. “They’re difficult to track where they were stolen from,” he said.

Between January 8, 2024 and May 7, 2024, Wichita Police investigated 19 Lego thefts, according to data the police department provided to CNN. Thefts included sets based on Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Back to the Future films, the data indicated.

When reached for comment, Lego directed CNN to online resources on its website to educate consumers how to spot fake online Lego stores and fake Lego products.

In California, several Bricks & Minifigs stores have been robbed 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.

Zuniga got emotional when speaking about the robbery to CNN.

Miguel Zuniga captured the store break-in on June 18 on his security camera.

After cleaning his store the day of the burglary, 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 Lego sets. He bought Lego sets that were on sale at the local Target to fill up empty shelves.

“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, his own voice cracking as he sobbed. “He’s our local legend. He showed up in tears.”