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Pokemon Creates Crime Wave

December 11, 1999 GMT

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Tony Ward wishes his 10-year-old son would take up a less dangerous hobby. But the boy insists on collecting Pokemon cards.

Ward has worried since his son and a friend were robbed of $60 worth of cards last weekend in south Philadelphia.

``Hopefully he has learned his lesson and won’t carry around as many cards anymore,″ Ward said. ``I tell him when he goes out he has to be more street-smart now.″

What started as an innocent fad has turned serious as some kids _ and adults _ have resorted to crime and violence to get their hands on the Japanese cartoon trading cards.

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A 9-year-old in Connecticut his inside a store after it closed to get his hands on Pokemon cards, authorities say, only to call for help because there was no way out. A 14-year-old in South Carolina is accused of smashing a store window to steal $250 worth of the cards _ ignoring thousands of dollars worth of rare coins.

In the last week, four children from one Philadelphia middle school were arrested for attacking other students to steal Pokemon cards. A 14-year-old in Quebec was recently stabbed during a fight over the cards.

Various toys associated with Pokemon have also sparked violence. On Thursday, a North Carolina man was charged with assault for punching a Burger King cashier after he did not get a Pokemon toy with his meal.

``They’re Pokemon card sharks out there,″ said Philadelphia police officer Charlie Sarkioglu. ``This is worse than the Cabbage Patch Kid craze because now it’s the kids who are actually fighting each other instead of just the parents.″

Pokemon _ trading cards popularized by a Japanese video game depicting tiny monsters _ has become so popular among children ages 5 to 13, some say it’s bigger than obsessions with Beanie Babies and Star Wars.

The card game involves a host of imaginary creatures, each with their own set of special powers. The goal is to win as many of the colorful cards as possible. They cost $3 a pack or as much as a few hundred dollars for rare cards.

The popularity explosion has some parents confused, unsure whether it’s safer to buy their children more cards or no cards, Sarkioglu said.

Schools from Pennsylvania to Oregon have banned Pokemon games and trading cards, but that hasn’t stopped the violence.

At Wilson Middle School in Philadelphia on Monday, two boys punched and threw a trash can at an 11-year-old boy in a bathroom. The attackers ran off with two Pokemon cards and 75 cents. They were arrested and charged with robbery and also suspended for five days.

In Quebec, a student trying to recover a $30 set of Pokemon cards taken from his 10-year-old brother the day before was stabbed with a four-inch knife.

A federal lawsuit in San Diego even argues Pokemon is a gambling enterprise because children must ``pay to play″ by purchasing the cards.

The plaintiffs ask that Nintendo of America Ltd., the creator of the Pokemon craze, return its profits from Pokemon to customers or pay an unspecified amount in monetary damages.