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Walter Sobchak: That poor slut kidnapped herself.
People are willing to do anything for the safety of a friend or loved one. If you're the friend or loved one, you can play this to your advantage for material or emotional gain. All you have to do is "disappear," leave a ransom note, and everyone will think you're being held captive. The best part is you don't have to put yourself in actual danger to get the benefits of people going out of their way to save you.
There are quite a few reasons for doing this. Perhaps you need money, but nobody would give it to you if you just asked. Or you need the MacGuffin, but seeing as it's so valuable, no one would give it to you either except to save a member of the team. If you're The Mole, this can be used to lure the good guys into a trap as they come to rescue you. Finally, some people do this for fame and attention, for the same reason some fake their death and attend the funeral to see who really cares about them.
As this trope is a Plot Twist, there are spoilers ahead in the examples.
- The second episode of Detective Conan has him solve the kidnapping of the daughter of a bigshot company-president which starts OUT as a Faked Kidnapping designed to make her overworked father spend more time with her (she even got the good-natured Butler to help), but turns real when an actual criminal kidnaps he from the family restaurant where she'd been waiting out the fake kidnapping. It's up to Conan to save the day!
- Mobile Fighter G Gundam: Maria Louise does this with the help of Domon in order for the latter to fight George de Sand. However, George later reveals he knew about that anyways.
- This is part of Ava Lord's Wounded Gazelle Gambit to get Dwight to murder her husband in the Sin City story A Dame To Kill For.
- Modesty Blaise: In "Milord", journalist Guido Biganzoli plans to fake his own kidnapping in order to get a big story that will get him transferred back to Italy. However, things do not go according to plan and it turns into an Accidental Kidnapping of Willie Garvin.
- In Oliver and Company, the dogs take back Oliver, thinking he had been captured, when in fact he had been adopted by Lonely Rich Kid Penny. When Fagin sees the direction in the collar, he sends a ransom note there in order to pay off Sykes. He changes his mind when Penny arrives with her piggy bank, and simply gives Oliver back. This is followed by the all-too-real kidnapping of Penny by Sykes.
- Scooby Doo on Zombie Island: Simone and Lena fake a breaking and entering and kidnapping. When the gang come to rescue them, it turns out to be a trap.
Film (Live Action)
- The Big Lebowski has the Dude and his friend Walter Sobchak do a favor for Mr. Lebowski by solving the kidnapping of his young trophy wife following Mr. Lebowski being sent her faked toe and giving the apparent kidnappers a ransom bribe. Subverted in that the poor slut did not kidnap herself but went missing for a few days while her friends sent a ransom note to take advantage of her absence.
- Excess Baggage. Emily Hope fakes her own kidnapping to get her father's attention. She handcuffs herself and puts herself in the trunk of her car, but a criminal steals the car while she's in it and the fake kidnapping turns into a real one.
- At the end of The Big Restaurant, it turns out President Novales did it.
- There's an Ellery Queen short story where a child faked his own kidnapping to get his estranged parents back together. It worked.
- In Bitter Gold Hearts, Karl Jr.'s kidnapping looks suspiciously like this trope to Garrett when he first starts investigating it. It's a subversion: a fake kidnapping that turned real when his accomplices got scared and/or creative.
- In a variant from the Harry Dresden short story "A Restoration Of Faith", some Jerkass parents hire him to find their runaway daughter, but then turn around and tell the police that he kidnapped her, thinking to stiff him on the bill and get a juicy sob-story out of the incident, rather than let anyone know their own kid can't stand them.
- The A to Z Mysteries book "The Absent Author" revolves around the kidnapping of the eponymous mystery author. Turns out the whole thing was a hoax in order for the author to investigate how real kids solve mysteries.
- An episode of CSI focused on the death of a girl who'd been unfortunately involved in the fake kidnapping of another girl. They couldn't find the live girl and were warned that she was faking in an effort to gain attention from her father, but they had to find her to be sure. She turned up dead in the trunk of a car - but the kidnapping really had been fake. The death was accidental.
- Mathnet (a segment on Square One TV parodying Dragnet): an aging diva fakes a kidnapping by an up and coming ingenue in order to revive her career. Unfortunately for the diva, the ingenue (named Eve) happens to be a friend of Kate Monday of the Mathnet squad.
- There is an episode of Yeralash, where a boy calls his little sister at home, and says (changing his voice), that the boy was kidnapped by a band. The girl, after inquiring whether he's hidden and tied up securely, asks that they don't release him until she eats all of the cake their grandma baked. The boy replies "your brother managed to escape after all, the rogue", and runs home to get his share.
- The pilot episode of Psych had this as the solution of Shawn's first case. The rich kid ran away and sent his own ransom notice, the dad found out, accidentally killed him in an argument, killed the kid's friend for witnessing it, and made it look like a murder/suicide.
- In the Law and Order episode "Snatched", the son of one of Adam Schiff's friends cooks up a faked kidnapping with a couple of other people in order to bilk $4 million out of his father. It turns out that he chose his accomplices poorly, as they try to kill him in order to not split the money three ways.
- An episode of Nestor Burma had a fake kidnapping become real.
- An episode of Kojak had a variation: The kidnapping was real but a friend of the parents' offered to pay up the ransom: It was actually a ploy by him to pay off a debt to the mob without being suspected. Things go sour when the girl sees the face of one of the goons, who then decides to kill her.
- The Tracker episode "Trust". Cole gets caught up in what appears to be the kidnapping of a rich girl. The first time, the money didn't make it to the 'kidnappers' because the fugitives landed on Earth and one of the bodies that was taken was Darius, the con man delivering the money. Nestov didn't know what to do so he went to Cole. Cole and Mel attempt to locate the girl, but they eventually discover she faked it because she was ticked her dad cut off her money supply. She ends up getting stuffed in the trunk by Cole so she can be turned in.
- Ace Attorney Investigations Miles Edgeworth: Lance Armano did this to cover his debt to a loan company.
- Also used in case 4 of Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations. Dahlia Hawthorne, Valerie Hawthorne, and Dahlia's boyfriend did this to ransom a $2 million diamond.
- Played straight at least once in Final Fantasy XII. The process isn't fake, but being that it's an arranged kidnapping, it qualifies.
- The Phantasy Star II text adventure for Eusis is based around this.
- In an episode of The Simpsons Mr. Burns' grown up son appears but proves to be a disappointment to his father, so he recruits Homer to fake his own kidnapping.
Mr. Burns (Sr.): I should have known you would be the only one stupid enough to kidnap yourself!
- In another episode, Bart fakes his kidnapping in order to cover up that he had sneaked out of the house to go to a rap concert.
- In American Dad episode "Frannie 911" Francine pretends to kidnap Roger in an attempt to prove Stan cares about him. She is put through hell due to Roger's usual Jerkass antics and Stan finding out the plan and making extraordinary bluffs, all of which make her realise why Stan loathes the little asshole in the first place.
Stan: Is it saying we have caller ID? Is it saying next time you kidnap Roger don't use your cellphone?
- On Kim Possible, when Shego is mentoring Senor Senior Junior, they discover that several millionaires are playing poker with Senor Senior Senior, and decide to "hold them" for ransom.