Man steals Pokémon cards on the job in 'largest' theft the game has ever seen, tries to sell his haul, but the law is super effective

A stack of illicit Pokemon cards.
(Image credit: Guavawave)

Update 04/20/23: The Pokémon Company has provided the following statement:

"We take the protection of our IP and associated products very seriously. This matter remains under investigation and we cannot comment on details at this time. However, we can confirm that Sword & Shield booster packs and products were shipped to retail as intended and we have no indication that the integrity of the products were impacted by any confirmed or unconfirmed theft.

"Furthermore, we continue to significantly invest in both the production and security of our TCG business. We value the faith our fans put in us and our products, and these investments are intended to help us continue to maintain their trust."

Original story: Pokémon is one of the biggest entertainment brands on the planet, and one of its most popular and profitable offshoots has always been The Pokémon Trading Card Game. Part of the TCG's appeal, appropriately enough, is that it's an ever-evolving ecosystem that constantly receives new sets and lines to keep the collectors happy. Unfortunately, a somewhat hapless thief's get-rich-quick scheme has enraptured the community, as well as opening a very specific old wound.

The drama began with a photograph posted on a closed Pokémon World Facebook group before acquiring traction on the PokémonTCG subreddit (thanks, Kotaku). It shows a table covered in 'hit' cards, which is to say rare and holographic pulls, from a Pokémon TCG series called Fusion Strike. The number of cards in the picture is impossible to say but the depth of the stacks and filled boxes suggest there are multiple thousands.

"Saw this on a FB group," redditor GuavaWave wrote when posting the photograph. "Allegedly, printing company worker stole hits off the line and tried to offload them to a LGS."

This amount of these specific cards is, to say the least, not normal. These cards are so sought-after because of their rarity, so a collector having multiple thousands of the rarest in perfect condition from a single set (and a set which, as we'll come to, has its own controversy over the rare cards) was bound to raise some eyebrows: And sure enough, it did.

The alleged thief tried to sell the haul to a Dallas-based company called Trading Card World (TCW). The staff were immediately suspicious of the cards' origins and, when questioned, the seller informed them he worked for a Pokémon card printing company. TCW then contacted The Pokémon Company. Things escalated, the cards were recovered from the would-be seller, and law enforcement is investigating them.

Saw this on a FB group. Allegedly, printing company worker stole hits off the line and tried to offload them to a LGS. from r/PokemonTCG

After the news of this botched heist began to circulate, TCW issued a statement, which begins by saying "Although the release of this information is unfortunate, the truth of the subject is as follows." TCW says it was contacted by the individual asking if they'd be interested in purchasing "hits from the set" and, after reviewing pictures, "advised they were either fake or stolen. Realizing the amount of packs it would have required to obtain that quantity of hits, it seemed clear that one or the other was true."

At this point "the seller explained his connection to the source and TCW immediately contacted Pokémon Corp through proper channels. The information was sent up the corporate ladder given the seriousness of the situation. A high-ranking Pokémon official contacted TCW."

For some reason, I imagine a high ranking Pokémon official to be wearing a lab coat and tons of gym badges, but I digress. TCW worked with Pokémon Corp "to successfully retrieve and return the cards", presumably by setting up a sting though this is not elaborated upon, and says the haul "was the largest return of stolen property to date" in the Pokémon TCG.

This would have just been a story of what seems to be a rather gormless thief, except it has a little crossover with a popular conspiracy theory, though perhaps that's too strong a phrase, centering on the Fusion Strike cards themselves. Essentially lots of players think that the 2021 expansion has artificially low pull rates for the rare cards and, while there's never been any real slam-dunk proof of this, the idea has real traction among Pokémon TCG fans. Who, of course, look at this picture of thousands of rare Fusion Strike cards and say "aha!"

The original Facebook post with the photograph has been deleted, but the caption posted alongside it began "If anyone wants to know why Fusion Strike had no hits... apparently an employee at the printing facility stole all the hits which are pictured below and tried to sell them to TCW."

So the image's origin immediately links it to this popular theory and, of course, people like the idea that a perceived low pull rate can be linked to someone who worked in a Pokémon TCG production facility literally stealing the cards off the line. Of course, there's as-yet no confirmation of the cards' origins, when or where they were stolen, and what impact (if any) the theft may have had on the production of the Fusion Strike set.

The Pokémon Company provided a statement following the publication of this article, which can be found at the top of this article, claiming there's "no indication" the integrity of any product lines was affected. Who knows.

Rich Stanton

Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."