- You’d think the colorful plastic bricks are just kids’ toys, but they’re actually worth a lot of money.
Black markets usually provide those looking for illicit goods a relatively safe trade network. While they can offer those living under repressive regimes a chance to by basic necessities, mostly they’re used to sell illegal stuff, like parts of endangered animals.
But that’s not all you can find in these shady marketplaces. You could also by any assortment of drugs, weapons, criminal services, and… Lego.
You read that right. French police authorities are building a case against an international criminal network dealing in stolen Lego.
Last June, they caught three Polish citizens – two men and a woman – red-handed stealing everyone’s favorite toy bricks from a toy store in Yvelines. The trio confessed that they were part of an expert thief team specialized in stealing Lego.
It turns out that there are groups that are practically Lego mafias. Entire criminal operations center around pilfering Lego blocks and selling them through both legal and illegal channels.
“[The criminals] come to France, set up in a hotel in the Paris region, then set about raiding toy stores before returning to Poland to sell off their haul,” explained a French police officer.
Next they’ll probably tell us that there’s some kind of a Lego Godfather pulling the strings.
Not Just for Kids
But who on Earth is buying these black-market toys? Kids of actual mafia bosses who are trying to learn the trade?
Believe it or not, there is a whole worldwide community of people who invest in or play with Lego blocks – or both.
That market has only gotten bigger over the last year, confirmed another Lego specialist, Gerben van Ijken. He says it’s all due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Investing in these pieces isn’t new, but this niche market has reached new heights with the pandemic. People have more time at home because of the health restrictions and the game market has exploded,” van Ijken said.
One Expensive Brick
Lego don’t come cheap, either. The kits are pretty pricey to begin with, but the Lego Group’s marketing policies can cause the prices to skyrocket.
“Lego tends to have products that are available for a couple of years at a time and then they phase them out,” explained Malloy.
“If you look at older sets that are no longer in production, they have a collector value on top of their original value and those can go for thousands of dollars.”
As an example, Malloy named a certain Café Corner Lego set that cost some $150 when it was released in 2007. Since its disappearance from the store, it can now go for as much as $2,500 in its original packaging.
“Of course, it all depends on finding the right buyer. If somebody has nostalgia for it, or, because it’s a series, maybe they have all the rest of the series but they’re still missing that one, they might be willing to pay more for it. So, the prices can fluctuate a bit,” he added.
It’s not all about the complete sets, though. Even single Lego pieces can sell for outrageous prices for what’s essentially a tiny piece of plastic.
“Individual Lego pieces actually have quite a market. There’s a number of whole websites that are dedicated to selling nothing but individual pieces à la carte,” confirmed Malloy.
However, the single-piece market doesn’t see as much illegal activity. Getting a good price for Lego blocks requires a certain level of expertise. Most Lego thieves don’t have that – they’re in it just for easy money, after all.
A Thief’s Favorite Product
Still, with such huge profit potential, it’s no wonder those looking to turn a quick buck are attracted to old Lego kits.
“Lego is a very high dollar value item, especially given its relative size. So it makes a very good target for thieves because it is such an easy product for them to resell,” Malloy said.
Unlike many other expensive goods, Lego sets don’t have serial numbers or any other identifying information. According to Malloy, that makes it particularly easy for thieves to steal and resell them.
“We see reports of Lego sets being stolen on a pretty large scale fairly regularly. I see, every six months or so, news stories about that,” explained Malloy.
“There’s not really any way for a regular buyer to be able to know if what they’re buying was stolen or if it’s just something that somebody got as an extra Christmas gift and didn’t want.”
The thieves aren’t particularly picky about where they acquire their Lego sets from. While according to Malloy they mostly target retail stores, the French police felt the need to warn parents about possible Lego-related burglaries.
“There are reports, of course, of thieves targeting individuals, people who have large collections,” Malloy said.
“But most of the time they’re targeting the retail stores. It’s just easier pickings and it’s a lot easier to sell products that are still new as opposed to used.”
Still, if you have a kid or a sibling who’s really into building with Lego, you might want to keep your doors tightly locked at night.