As It Happens·Q&A

Lego enthusiast explains why the black market for the toy bricks is so lucrative

French police are building a case against an international gang of thieves who have been stealing Lego sets from toy stores across the country. That's no surprise for Chris Malloy, a Lego collector who runs the website Brothers Brick.

French police are building a case against an international gang of Lego thieves

Chris Malloy is a Lego collector and the managing editor of Brothers Brick, a website for Lego collectors, builders and enthusiasts. (Submitted by Chris Malloy)

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Some coveted Lego sets make a tempting target for thieves because they're hard to track and they sell for big money on the black market, according to a man who runs a news site dedicated to the toy bricks. 

French police are building a case against an international gang of thieves who have been stealing Lego sets from across the country, reports the Guardian.  Officers arrested three people in Yvelines, which is about an hour west from Paris, last summer.

They learned from the suspects, who were all from Poland, that they were part of a team specialized in stealing the brick sets from toy stores.

Chris Malloy, a Lego collector who runs the website Brothers Brickspoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about the market for Lego. Here is part of their conversation. 

Chris, why are people stealing Lego?

Lego has quite a following with the adult fan community. Because of that, there's a huge market for Lego right now.

Unlike a lot of products, it doesn't have serial numbers or anything. So it's a very easy product for thieves to target and then find a ready market for that to be sold.

But this isn't just like stealing some bricks or trays…. Organized groups of thieves have been busted. In this one case in France, they are gathering this stuff up and taking it into some Lego black market. Did you know that was going on?

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. And I think that's because 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. And it also is a very valuable product. Some Lego sets go for hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars depending on what they're targeting.

Café Corner is a Lego set from 2007 that the company has currently discontinued. Malloy says it can sell nowadays as much as $3,000 US. (Lego Group)

Wow. What are some of the most valuable Lego sets?

Lego tends to have products that are available for a couple of years at a time and then they phase them out. 

[If] you could walk into a Lego store or buy directly from the company right now, they range from anywhere from a couple hundred dollars up to the largest, [which] is a Millennium Falcon ... and that one goes for about $800 US. 

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. Lego has a line of modular city buildings ... classic architecture from Americana and some European cities. There's one from 2007 called Café Corner ... and that goes for $2,000 to $3,000, depending on how nice of a copy it is.

What would someone have bought the original Café Corner at the toy store for?

About $150 US, originally.

And so the street value of Café Corner is a couple of thousand dollars?

Yes.... 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.

In this April 5, 2016, photo an employee sorts bricks at the Lego store in Paris. (Francois Mori/The Associated Press)

These rings of Lego thieves — are they discovered often?

Yes, I think that they are. 

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. And so [the thieves], they're selling it on eBay.

When people steal these Lego sets, are they breaking into daycares and schools and places like yours?

There are reports, of course, of thieves targeting individuals, people who have large collections, but most of the time they're targeting the retail stores. It's just a lot easier pickings and it's a lot easier to sell products that are still new as opposed to used.

There is a huge market for used Lego sets, but that tends to take a lot of effort and a lot of knowledge and knowing exactly what you're selling and how to best sell it, which thieves usually don't possess. So they're looking for that quick dollar with brand new sets that are easy to flip over.

I mean, Lego just has the bricks and the trays and the little connectors ... the plain building blocks have nothing to do with the sets. Are they of value?

They definitely are. 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.... That sort of thing is not really of interest to thieves because, again, it takes so much effort and knowledge to know what you're doing to be able to sell that kind of thing profitably. Thieves tend to target the complete sets with minifigures and all of the blocks to build something just as Lego intended it.

Written by Mehek Mazhar. Interview produced by Kate Cornick. Q&A edited for length and clarity.

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