Created By: Xtifr on August 31, 2012 Last Edited By: FastEddie on September 13, 2012
Nuked

Conman In Marks Clothing

Attempting to trick someone by pretending to be an easy target for crime

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Trope
This was launched without YKTTW as "Napier", and with only two examples. TRS chose a new name for it, but to solve the only-two-examples problem, we decided to run it through YKTTW.

The TRS discussion is here, if anyone's interested. I also rewrote the description a little, but suggestions for improvement are welcomed.
This term refers to both a role in a con and a tale that uses the role. Goes like this: The Fake Mark pretends he is a big juicy target, someone easy to hate, someone who needs to be 'taken down.' The true conman brings this juicy target to the attention of a third party (the actual mark.

The idea is to get the real mark to chip in some funds in order to take down the fake mark, then take off with those funds. Frequently, the true mark of this tale is another conman, a juicy target being something a conman finds hard to pass by.

See also The Shill, which also involves pretending not to be part of the con.

Examples

Film
  • In the movie The Sting, Paul Newman's character Gondorff plays a fake mark, when he is working as the obnoxious bookie "Shaw".
  • In Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, where the whole plot is con vs. con, it's no surprise that this trope shows up. It is a surprise when Janet turns out to be the one doing this.

Literature
  • In the Discworld series:
    • In Going Postal, Moist von Lipwig mentions using the diamond-ring version of the Violin Scam on dishonest jewelers as his fallback get-cash-quick scheme.
    • In ''Witches Abroad', Granny Weatherwax puts on her vulnerable-old-lady act in order to sharp two card sharps penniless.

Live-Action TV
  • On Hustle, this is usually either Danny or Albert, though sometimes they rope in friends to dress up.
  • In Burn Notice, Michael needs to recover his client's money from a conman. He pretends to be a rich oil heir with a trust fund, and Sam plays his reluctant banker/trustee who wants to see matching funds before he'll allow Michael's character to invest in the conman's scheme. (In the end, this approach doesn't work, and the team has to improvise something a little more explosive.)
  • In the Cheers episode "Pick a Con... Any Con", Coach gets revenge on a card shark by conspiring with a second con artist. The plan works partly because Coach is seen as a mild-mannered Ditz, and nobody suspects a thing.

Western Animation
  • In King of the Hill, Peggy makes herself look like an incompetent conwoman wannabe who is trying to fool a professional conman with a con that anyone who watches movies should know. The professional conman can't resist such an easy mark and thus falls for her real con.

Community Feedback Replies: 32
  • August 31, 2012
    SKJAM
    See also The Shill.
  • September 1, 2012
    Xtifr
    Um, Eddie, I know you're the boss and all, but the name here was chosen by a crowner at TRS, and it beat Fake Mark fair and square. I don't have a preference, but the people's done spoke. Conman In Marks Clothing was 14:4; Fake Mark was 7:5.
  • September 1, 2012
    norsicnumber2nd
    And the episodes of Hustle where they rope in friends to 'dress up'.
  • September 2, 2012
    Xtifr
    I'm pretty sure I've seen this in shows like Leverage and Burn Notice, but I can't think of specific examples. Also, I seem to have a vague memory of it happening in a Scrooge McDuck story?
  • September 3, 2012
    Xtifr
    Ok, I found an example that doesn't quite fit the original description, but if we broaden this slightly, it would. The only thing that worries me is that if we broaden it too much, it might become another trope that we already have. So I'll let the peanut gallery decide.

    • In Burn Notice, Michael needs to recover his client's money from a conman. He pretends to be a rich oil heir with a trust fund, and Sam plays his reluctant banker/trustee who wants to see matching funds before he'll allow Michael's character to invest in the conman's scheme. (In the end, this approach doesn't work, and the team has to improvise something a little more explosive.)
  • September 3, 2012
    JohnDiFool
    Pretty much describes the plot of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, tho the fake mark pretty much did it all on her own. Elaborate and spoilerize if you want.

    Should be noted to be a subtrope of Outgambitted.
  • September 3, 2012
    Xtifr
    ^ That's not what I remember from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, though it's been a while since I've seen it. They were competing to con the same girl, but neither was pretending to be a mark that I recall.

    ETA: Oh, wait, you said her. Yeah, I forgot about that part. I think that fits. If I remembered it better, I'd be sure.
  • September 5, 2012
    Xtifr
    Ok, I think this definitely needs to be broadened slightly. The new laconic suggests what I'm thinking. Comments? (The description still needs work.)
  • September 5, 2012
    nitrokitty
  • September 5, 2012
    randomsurfer
    • In an episode of King Of The Hill Peggy gets conned by a conman. She gathers everyone else the conman conned to get him back The Sting-style, only to lose even more money to him. But it turns out she was setting him up for an even bigger con, which he fell for.
    • Cheers: Coach gets conned out of money by a poker shark. Sam hires Harry the Hat, a friendly neighborhood con artist, to get his money back. Harry proceeds to team up with the con artist to fleece Sam & co out of even more money; but the gang finds out. They force Harry & the other con to play for the entire stakes: if Harry wins he leaves with everything, if the other guy wins he'll give the gang a portion of their losings back. Harry wins and leaves with everything, vowing never to return to Cheers - but it turns out it was a subcon within a con within a con set up between him & Coach.
  • September 5, 2012
    Xtifr
    ^^ I don't recall Von Lipwig doing anything like this. He ran lots of regular cons, yes, but I don't recall him conning anyone by pretending to be a target himself.

    ^ Those are more like it! Although it's not really clear who was pretending to be the mark in the first one. Peggy again? And in the second one, it almost seems like it was Sam doing the pretending, except he didn't know he was pretending? It's a little confusing. (Which is probably the point, I suppose.)
  • September 6, 2012
    nitrokitty
    ^ He would pretend to to be a sap trying to sell a diamond ring to rope in greedy suckers.
  • September 6, 2012
    nielas
    ^^ In the King Of T He Hill example Peggy makes herself look like an incompetent conwoman wannabe who is trying to fool a professional conman with a con that anyone who watches movies should know. The professional conman can't resist such an easy mark and thus falls for her real con.

    This is usually an element in the Violin Scam.
  • September 6, 2012
    KingZeal
    Possible page quote:

    "The art is for me to feed pieces to you and make you believe you took those pieces, because you're smarter, and I'm dumber. In every game and con, there is always an opponent and there is always a victim. The more control the victim thinks he has, the less he actually has. I as the opponent just help him along." --Jake Green, Revolver

    • As seen in the quote above, this is the major theme of the film Revolver. The film goes even further and turns it into a life philosophy (based on Kabbalic principles); think of yourself as a "victim" and "evil" as the opponent and reread the quote above.
  • September 6, 2012
    Xtifr
    ^ I have no idea how any of that fits. Where's the pretending to be a mark part? The quote sounds more like something that would go on a general conman trope.

    The other suggestions are good. I'm knee-deep in something else right now, but I'll try to write up a better description and add some of the examples either later tonight or sometime tomorrow. In the mean time, keep 'em coming!
  • September 6, 2012
    randomsurfer
    nielas already explained the King of the Hill example better than I could.

    re Cheers: There are wheels within wheels, but it's ultimately Coach who's the Conman in Mark's Clothing. I'll try to break it down, perhaps with lots of unnecessary detail that could be summarized. Sometimes I have trouble putting in either too much detail or not enough. (Or you could look up the Cheers episode "Pick a Con...Any Con" to get probably a better idea. Here's IMDB's synopsis.)

    1. Coach gets taken by the card shark (George)
    2. Sam finds out
    3. Sam hires Harry, a conman friend of his; all the gang will play poker with George, and Harry will use his conman wiles to outcon George
      1. Offscreen Plan #1 Harry & Coach develop their own plan, but we don't learn about that until later
      2. Offscreen Plan #2 Harry contacts George, telling him about Sam's plan and conspiring to team up with him to fleece Sam, Norm, Coach, and Cliff, but we don't learn about that until later either
    4. The planned poker game happens, with Harry pretending to be just a yokel rather than a professional poker player/conman
    5. Counter to the plan, Harry does not take George for all his money; rather George becomes the big winner.
    6. Sam et al. discover Harry's planned double-cross, because Coach looks at Harry's latest "losing" hand and finds out that it would have beaten George except Harry didn't reveal it, he had just said "you win the hand" and tossed his cards away face down.
    7. George confesses (reveal of Offscreen plan #2 above); he won't give any of his winnings back, but he agrees to play Harry one-on-one and give to the guys half of whatever he gets from Harry from that point on. If Sam calls the cops on George, George will tell the cops about Sam's illegal poker game.
    8. Out of Harry's earshot, George tells the guys that at any given time he can have three queens in his hand; Coach is assigned the task of giving George a signal (by rubbing his nose) that Harry has a hand that can't beat three queens.
    9. George and Harry play. Coach gives the signal. He then points out to George that he rubbed his nose because his nose itched.
    10. George goes all in, betting the entire pot plus all his backup cash; Harry sees him, doing the same
    11. Harry has four of a kind. He takes his winnings and hightails it out of there. Sam tells him to never come back and Harry says he won't.
    12. George yells at Coach for giving the signal too early; Coach counters that he told George that his nose itched! George leaves in a huff; Coach looks like he's crying, both because he lost his life savings and because George yelled at him.
    13. But no - Coach is actually laughing. When Sam asks him why, Coach points to the back room and says "That!"
    14. Harry casually steps out of the back room, with all the winnings. It turns out that he and Coach set the whole thing up (not counting the part where George had originally fleeced Coach). Since Coach is very much a Cloud Cuckoolander/Ditz nobody suspected a thing. (Reveal of offscreen plan #1 above)

    Whew, that's even longer than I planned. I wonder if it will post in one reply?
  • September 7, 2012
    KingZeal
    I have no idea how any of that fits. Where's the pretending to be a mark part? The quote sounds more like something that would go on a general conman trope.

    "The art is for me to feed pieces to you and make you believe you took those pieces because you're smarter and I'm dumber."

  • September 7, 2012
    Xtifr
    ^ This is about pretending to be a (relatively) easy victim, not stupid. That may be a common approach, but it's not the same thing. In fact, a lot of cons involve pretending to be stupid, but not necessarily a victim. And many examples of this trope (especially those with a partner) don't involve pretending to be particularly stupid at all. Merely vulnerable. The quote seems tangential at best. The example might fit, though, if you can explain it a little better. (Never seen the movie.)

    Ok, I wrote a new description, and added most of the examples. I haven't added the Cheers example yet, but that's only because I need to think how to phrase it; it does indeed seem to fit.
  • September 7, 2012
    rodneyAnonymous
    ^^^ In the Cheers episode "Pick a Con... Any Con", Coach gets revenge on a card shark by conspiring with a second con artist. The plan works partly because Coach is seen as a mild-mannered Ditz, and nobody suspects a thing.
  • September 7, 2012
    Xtifr
    ^ Good enough. I'll go with that, at least for now.
  • September 7, 2012
    pointlessproductions
    I'm being a little picky, but is there a reason there's no apostrophe in the title? That is, "Mark's" instead of "Marks". There may well be and I'm not aware, so sorry if that's the case.
  • September 7, 2012
    FastEddie
    Not sure why this is duplicated. See Fake Mark
  • September 8, 2012
    Xtifr
    ^ This is not duplicated, this is the same trope sent to YKTTW by TRS! The new name was also chosen at TRS. Please note that Fake Mark only has two examples, which is not enough to meet Three Rules Of Three. (Plus, it's an ambiguous name, though not as confusing as the original name.)

    ^^ the apostrophe will be added with a custom title, if it's kept.
  • September 11, 2012
    Xtifr
    Ok, whatever the name, this still needs more examples. I really thought this was more common that it seems to be.
  • September 12, 2012
    robinjohnson
    • Another Discworld example: in Witches Abroad, Granny Weatherwax puts on her vulnerable-old-lady act in order to sharp two card sharps penniless.
  • September 12, 2012
    nielas
    This can be a key part of a Kansas City Shuffle

    • In Lucky Number Slevin the main character seems like a perfect patsy but is actually conning the two mob bosses into lowering their guard so he can kill them as revenge for his parents' murder..
  • September 13, 2012
    FastEddie
    Oh. The name sucks. I don't care what a crowner said in TRS. Fake Mark works, but we can think of others that are short, clear, and memorable, as well. Committees are notoriously uncreative. This name is not creative.
  • September 13, 2012
    robinjohnson
  • September 13, 2012
    FastEddie
    False Mark would also work. I noticed the definition was beginning to drift, so I edited it. This is specifically about a conman acting as another grifter's target in order to pull in a third party -- the actual mark.
  • September 13, 2012
    Xtifr
    "Mark" alone doesn't convey anything about a con, unless you happen to think of the context. And even then it could have other meanings. Fake Mark is hopelessly ambiguous. It is, IMO, a terrible name. I'm no fan of the TRS-chosen name, but it was by far the only clear name suggested at TRS.

    Also, the definition was broadened because we only have two examples of the narrower definition, and one of those is dubious. With all the examples we have of a broader, but essentially-the-same trope that matches the name (all the names), broadening seemed like the obvious solution. But if you want to take over this YKTTW, Eddie, I'm perfectly willing. I only volunteered because it seemed like it would be helpful to clear out the TRS backlog. This needs examples, and we have one-and-a-half under your definition.
  • September 13, 2012
    FastEddie
    We cannot, nor do we want to, convey the entire context in a name. The objective to make a name that people off site will use when talking about the trope. Nobody is going to use 'conman in mark's clothing' to talk about a fake mark. Primarily because now you have the problem of explaining what the phrase means. Since you have to refer back to us one way or the other, we might as well have name that is exactly right, once you see the context.

    Furthermore, nobody will be using Fake Mark outside the wiki other than in the context of conmen and marks. Everything has a context. We do not have to supply it.

    We're not in such a hurry to reduce the TRS backlog that we shouldn't do it well. Drifting the description and picking a clunky name is not doing it well.

  • September 13, 2012
    Xtifr
    I agree about not conveying the entire context, but I also regularly see widespread misuse when a trope's name is too broad. But that's all sort of beside the point. The name's not so much a problem as the definition. We have several example here that prove the existences of a broader trope, and only two (or one-and-a-half) examples of the narrow one. We need the broader trope; the evidence that we need this narrow one is--not apparent. But as I mentioned elsewhere, I don't have strong feelings about any of this, and would be more than happy to let you run this YKTTW. I'm am seriously beginning to regret volunteering my time.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=7chhapwslpnyo7kiagb3cfim&trope=DiscardedYKTTW