At one point in Arakawa Under the Bridge, Shiro, wearing his Salary Man suit, uses the magic words taught by Ric to get rid of contractors inspecting the land, "Great work, that's enough for today." The contractors promptly pack up and leave, satisfied at their great work and their boss's understanding attitude.
In Tenchi Muyo GXP, Mitoto Kuramitsu (mother of Mihoshi Kuramitsu - yes that Mihoshi) wanders around everywhere cleaning, in one episode dragging Seina Yamada along through all sorts of odd locations, including pirate ship command decks and other dangerous locations, and doing the same thing with Seiryo Tennan in another. But then she's nearly classifiable as Too Dumb to Live, which is probably why nobody really seems to bother her.
Haruhi Suzumiya in the fourth novel and the movie uses this to capture Mikuru Asahina.
Haruhi: Which one of you is Mikuru Asahina? Hi, I'm Haruhi Suzumiya, from the Student Council Information Division. Please come with me!
Axis Powers Hetalia - Germany does this in the world conference episode. America, France, and England are arguing, Switzerland is threatening to beat up Japan, China has brought food, Russia is trying to intimidate the Baltics, and Greece has fallen asleep.
Germany: Everyone shut up! We've called this conference to solve the world's problems, not to fight about the problems of our past, and since I'm the only one who seems to know how to run a meeting, we'll follow my rules from here on out! Eight minutes each for speeches, no chit-chat about side deals, and absolutely no going over the time limit. Now, if you want to go, make sure you're prepared and raise your hand, but do so in a way that does not mock anything from my country's past!
Akira of Eden of the East is as good at pulling these as he is with more complicated schemes. One notable example is in the first movie, wherein he gets an unhelpful cab driver to look for/return Saki's bag. Akira claims he is an officer and that Saki is a dangerous terrorist who he has taken into custody, and he suggests that there may be a bomb in her bag. He pulls this off by briefly flashing his wallet and having Saki stand with a jacket draped over her hands to suggest she was handcuffed.
In Barefoot Gen, Gen and Shinji bang on pots and shout fire to announce that their big brother has enlisted.
John Constantine of Hellblazer is fond of doing this from time to time.
In Alan Moore's Top 10 series, a character who legitimately is a high and feared official uses these tactics in pursuit of a decidedly unofficial personal agenda.
All due respect sir...Permission to use extreme force.
Spider Jerusalem uses one of these to see the president, busting into the men's room brandishing a crucifix and claiming to be an accredited exorcist.
This is one of Spider's favorite tools and one of the reasons he hates fame is that he can't pull this off because people recognize him.
He sometimes uses his fame to work to this end with the principle "follow the famous crazy person."
Tommy Monaghan, from Hitman, pulled this off in order to gather intel and save his friend Natt the Hat. He simply went up to the last man in line on the string of Mafia goons leading Natt's apartment and pretended to be another guy sent by the boss. Upon learning 'they' were going to get Tommy next, gunfire ensued.
In Robo-Hunter (a longrunning although intermittent strip in 2000A.D. Comic) Sam Slade, the protagonist, is trapped on a planet populated by robots that imprisoned all the colonists they were supposed to prepare the planet for. It turns out that the first robot who built everything else had a very glorified view of humans, and when the first colonists showed up they weren't the walking gods the robots expected. So they decided these were Simulated humans or "Sims" that they didn't have to obey. Sam manages to get around a while by claiming to be a "Simulated Sim", complete with fake blood and all. Later he tricks the robots in a factory into thinking he's a higher-ranking robot by wearing encoded plating from some higher-ranking robots. Which he managed to destroy by convincing them to put their heads to his gun. Three guesses how he managed that...
In Gotham Central, Jack Dunning appears in the middle of the Major Crimes Unit squadroom right at the height of an intense investigation revolving around multiple murders of young men dressed in Robin costumes. When Stacy, the receptionist, asks how he even got into the building, he explains that he just walked past the desk sergeant like he knew what he was doing and nobody said anything.
Tintin impersonates a Japanese officer like this in The Blue Lotus. He got around not speaking with the right accent by simply not saying anything and just communicating with hand gestures and glares.
Haruhi pulls this off in Kyon Big Damn Hero, after Kyon is shot. Not only does she convince everyone a movie is being filmed, she manages to pass off the attackers as insubordinate actors.
Captain Hanala'Jarva vas Devoas pulls this off at the beginning of Uplifted. Facing capture by the Nazis, she informs them that if the fleet doesn't hear back from them in 30 days, the Quarians will bombard humanity off the Galactic map, despite the fleet believing her KIA and having only 2 surviving crew. This results in the Nazi regime believing her to be an authorized representative of her people, a status which she takes full advantage of.
In Point Of Succession Matt impersonates a police officer in order to assist in L's investigation of B. Later Light engineers one in order to steal evidence for L's investigation in which he pretended to be from the Japanese embassy and instigated a loud, self-righteous shouting match with the police over burial rights while his accomplice broke in.
In 3 Slytherin MaraudersDraco throws a tantrum and Lucius demands the Ministry workers stop whatever they're doing and assist him so that Arthur Weasley can sneak in to find evidence that Rufus Scrimgeour and Dolores Umbridge are plotting to steal Harry away from his family.
In Dirty Sympathy Apollo manages to bluff his way into Klavier's hospital room by flashing his attorney badge to the nurse and carrying manila files; saying that the law office sent him to have Klavier sign off some paperwork or to at least tell him who to resign to.
Films — Animated
Subverted in Titan A.E. when Preed tries to bully the guard to the slave pens by pretending to be a slave trader. The guard shows he's Genre Savvy and not just Dumb Muscle by pointing out all the flaws in the masquerade, forcing Preed's companion to knock him out. Preed hangs a final lampshade on the subversion with the comment, "A smart guard. Didn't see that coming."
On Shrek 2, Shrek gets into the Fairy Godmother's factory by claiming to be from "the Union".
Shrek: We represent the workers in all magical industries, both evil and benign. Have you been feeling oppressed or degraded lately?
A favoured tactic of Axel Foley in Beverly Hills Cop: his usual tactics include flashing his police badge around too quickly for anyone to see that he's out of his jurisdiction (the films take place in Beverly Hills and he isn't a Beverly Hills Cop) and claiming to be one of a variety of other important figures.
Rusty Ryan pulls this, rescuing Basher from arrest by barging onto the scene and acting like a detective, taking charge of the arrest and getting rid of the officer by ordering him to go find someone who didn't exist.
Rusty: Go find Griggs, tell him I need to talk to him. Officer: Who? Rusty: JUST FIND HIM, ALL RIGHT?
A number of team members posed as the SWAT team sent to secure Benedict's vault, faked an assault on the intruders, then trooped out of the casino in plain view, concealing the money in their equipment & ammo bags.
In Diamonds Are Forever, Bond donned a lab coat, grabbed a clipboard and masqueraded as "Klaus Hergesheimer, G Section" (whom he had met earlier) to explore the secret installation where the Kill Sat was being created.
In The Man with the Golden Gun, Bond attempts (and succeeds) to masquerade as the villain, Scaramanga, to a Thai entrepreneur — by pasting a third nipple on himself and hanging out proudly by the pool. He's gambling on the idea that that the entrepreneur and Scaramanga have never met in person, and that the entrepreneur would only know Scaramanga by his identifying physical oddity. The plan works but then Bond gets found out and used for practice by a Thai krabi krabong school. Turns out, Scaramanga was RIGHT THERE!
The World Is Not Enough. The bad guys have kidnapped and killed an elderly official from Russia's Atomic Energy Authority, planning to replace him to aid their theft of plutonium. Bond kills and replaces their replacement (fooling the bad guys into getting him transport), and successfully bluffing his way into the nuclear disarmament site that is going to be robbed. The subversion comes from the fact that Dr Christmas Jones, the film's Girl of the Week, saw straight through it, and let Bond through while she grabbed security. She arrives just as Bond is trying to foil The Dragon's real theft.
In the 1987 film The Secret Of My Success, whiz kid business school graduate Brantley Foster is given a charity mailroom job by his uncle when the company he was supposed to go to work for goes under on his first day. He becomes a mid-level executive in his uncle's company simply by taking over an unoccupied office, requisitioning supplies, and getting a secretary from the company pool. He plays the part so well that no one catches on to what he's doing. It helps that his mailroom job lets him go anywhere in the building unnoticed, talk to almost anyone, and observe the workings of the corporation in a way that the other executives can't.
In Big Trouble in Little China, Jack and Wang bluff their way through the front office of the Wing Kong Exchange by pretending to be telephone repairmen, walking right past the guards without being stopped by keeping up a stream of fake phone jargon. Jack is carrying a phone on the assumption that this will lend some credibility.
A version of this is pulled in the movie Hackers, where the male lead talks a guard on night watch at the local tv station into handing over the number to the modem by claiming to work in accounting.
Mildly in Heat, where McCauley merely needs to look and sound like he belongs in order not to be challenged by the hotel staff. And also done right at the beginning of the film to steal an ambulance.
This is an important part of Frank Abagnale's con schemes in Catch Me If You Can. Near the beginning of the movie, Frank pretends to be the substitute teacher for the French class at his new high school. It took a week for the faculty to catch on, during which time he already held a parent-teacher conference and was planning a field trip. He also talked his way out of an arrest by FBI agent Carl Hanratty by posing as a member of the Secret Service. Amusingly this is a case in which reality was more awesome in that he escaped from prison by impersonating the same FBI agent that arrested him. Truth in Movies, Frank Abagnale, the real man the film is based on, filled the spots of several highly skilled positions (doctor, priest, teacher, pilot, etc) over the course of his life. Amazingly enough, this trope didn't apply to his short "career" as a lawyer; Abagnale studied, took the bar exam, and passed, and thus wasn't "pretending" to be a lawyer at all (although he only passed that one by redoing the same exam until he elimated all his mistakes).
In The Paper, Michael Keaton claims (and demonstrates!) that all you need to get into any building in the world is a clipboard and a confident wave.
The Yes Men is a documentary of a group of activists who went around the world pulling off stunts like these, getting to hold speeches at all sorts of institutes, universities, and getting on news broadcasts. Selection of topics their Straw Man alter egos supported are recycling "human waste" into food in the third world, and reinstating slavery for the benefit of the clothing industry.
In Race to Witch Mountain, Dr. Friedman pulls one of these on the people studying the spaceship to get them to leave.
In The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer, the titular character managed to successfully become part of an advertising agency by going in with a clipboard, looking like he knew what he was doing and saying he was with "efficiency", and everyone perfectly buys it!
In The Devils Rejects, Captain Spaulding commandeers a car by giving the driver the line "I've got to borrow your car, ma'am. Official clown business."
This backfires, so he has to headbutt her and steal the car. Also scares the shit out of her son.
Simon Graham: Sorry. I think I'm going to be sick.
In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Scotty and McCoy, who are trying to build a giant water tank, barge into a Plexiglas manufacturer on an "invited tour" which the manager knows nothing about, prompting Scotty to go on a tirade, demanding to see the owners until the manager offers to conduct their tour personally. They pull another one later in the film, using a fake medical emergency to get past two guards at a hospital.
Accidentally invoked and taken to its ultimate extreme in Israeli comedy film Te'alat Blaumilch (translation: The Blaumilch Canal; English title: The Big Dig) in which a lunatic escapes from an asylum and starts digging up a major road. When it comes to official notice, he is given every assistance possible, despite numerous complaints. Hilarity Ensues, especially when they reach the sea...
The 1941 film They Met in Bombay, starring Clark Gable, had his character, dressed as a British officer, ordering soldiers he finds on the street to follow him. Eventually he is sent by the British army into battle against the Japanese. His performance is such that he is awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions, at which point they find out that not only is he not in the army at all, he's a notorious jewel thief who disguised himself as an officer as part of a scam.
In the movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off, this trope is attempted by Ferris' best friend on the phone to the headmaster, claiming to be the father of Ferris' girlfriend and that her grandmother has died. The headmaster assumes it's Ferris and abuses him over the phone, just as Ferris calls in on another line to talk to the headmaster. They also use this as a trio with the girlfriend at an upmarket club to have lunch pretending to be a preexisting booking, with Ferris using a phone from another room to trick the head waiter.
Many movies use the "existing booking" stunt at a hotel, wedding, funeral, etc. It helps to pick a common surname like Smith or Jones.
Then there's the famous "Twist and Shout" scene. How he got onto a parade float with a group of Bavarian girls is left unexplained, but by that point in the movie he'd previously demonstrated his aptitude with Bavarian Fire Drills.
In The Beast Master 2, an atom bomb big enough to destroy the world is stolen by the main villain. He steals a general's uniform, security papers and memories, then walks right in to the secure military base, being allowed past the gate and all the way up to the bomb itself before being so much as questioned despite the fact that he has a leather patch fixed over half his face.
A favorite tactic of K in Men In Black; it's even lampshaded in the novel: Act like you're in charge and everybody will act like you are.
K: Damn, what a gullible breed.
In Flightplan, this is how the kidnapper pulls off the girl's disappearance without anyone noticing, and he basically says so.
Charlie of The Deal manages to keep the film production constantly moving forward by acting like he knows the exact right next step and alternately banding everyone together to act as one and getting them to fight each other.
This is how most cheating in Munchkin is accomplished. Simply do whatever the hell you want, and act normal. The rules specify that you can cheat all you want and it's allowed as long as the other players don't catch you.
The title character from Douglas Adams' Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency cons his way onto the site of a murder investigation simply by falling into step with a policeman entering the crime scene and offhandedly saying "It's okay, he's with me" to the officer stationed at the entrance. Once inside, by acting confident and official, he is able to order the cops to do several strange and useless things in order to get them out of the way. A detective who knew Dirk recognised he'd been present upon finding one cop disassembling a wastepaper basket and another defending a sofa immovably stuck halfway up the stairs with a handsaw.
In the sequel, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, Dirk is prepared to use a rapidly produced and returned Marks and Spencer loyalty card as ID, only to find that the officer guarding the scene has been told who he is and to let him in.
In So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, Ford Prefect helps Arthur and Fenchurch board a flying saucer through a crowd of curious onlookers by wearing a lab coat and "randomly" choosing the couple to help him carry his "scientific equipment".
In Mostly Harmless, Ford gets himself and Arthur into an exclusive club with his usual method: he walks right past the bouncer, points at Arthur, and says "He's with me."
The Trope Namer comes from the Illuminatus!! trilogy, where Simon Moon used it to illustrate how most people will follow even nonsensical orders if given in a tone of authority; he stops several cars in the middle of traffic, shouting, "Bavarian Fire Drill! Everyone out! Stay in line!", getting the perplexed drivers to follow him in marching in a circle around their cars before then getting back in as if nothing had happened. The name itself is a reference to the old prank of a "Chinese fire drill", where the passengers in a car stopped at a sign or light all get out at once and get back in different seats.
And that name in turn comes from a messed up fire drill by Chinese sailors under British officers, where a miscommunication caused the bucket brigade to fill up buckets on one side of the ship and toss them out on the other side.
Several characters in the Discworld novels have gotten their way simply by acting like they're in charge or that they belong where they're not supposed to be. Victor Tugelbend does it to get into a "clicks" studio in Moving Pictures, where the narration states "No-one with their sleeves rolled up who walks purposefully with a piece of paper held conspicuously in their hand is ever challenged." Moist von Lipwig is rather fond of this in Going Postal and Making Money. And Granny Weatherwax has passed for nobility in both Witches Abroad and Maskerade by simply dressing the part and being her usual bossy know-it-all self, since many folks on the Disc "confuse bad manners with good breeding". Nanny Ogg, on the other hand, gets through crowds by acting like a servant. Even Corporal "Nobby" Nobbs, who has to carry around papers proving his species, manages to pull this off with ease in Men at Arms. Given, Nobby has spent time in the army (well, several armies, depending on who was winning) so he had probably had a lot of practice with this.
It's also been noted on at least one occasion that tenure at Unseen University is a matter of finding an empty office, turning up for dinner on time, and hoping you don't attract students. I believe the most explicit example was in The Last Continent.
Lu-Tze could be considered an inversion of this trope: he has considerable authority as the History Monks' top field operative, but slips by everyone unchallenged because he dresses simply and carries a broom. This makes him a servant and therefore invisible, even to novice History Monks. He became the best of the best because no one noticed him attending every single lesson and going anywhere he wanted in the temple.
When Sam Vimes finds himself faced with a situation where everyone is waiting for orders, he takes advantage by giving orders. It usually takes the rest of the universe a few seconds to catch up, and they don't always fully realize the situation.
Rincewind does this in Interesting Times. He runs into a school while being chased, dons a pair of glasses, and then tells his would be captors to get out of the exam he's presiding over. They abide.
William, in The Truth, lampshades this technique when he tells Nobby "Yes, I've been talking to Commander Vimes, and now I would like to see the room where the crime was committed," and thinks that while the implication is that Vimes has given him permission, William has not claimed this.
Nanny Ogg (mentioned above) puts this trope to such effective use that she's an entire intelligence network to herself. Where Granny practices stealth by remaining unseen, Nanny prefers to go unnoticed. She blends in and convinces everyone she's just a harmless, drunken, and above all common old biddy, and before anyone realizes what they've said, she knows more than Granny would have found out with an hour of bullying.
Glenda from Unseen Academicals, after going through some Character Development, indulges in a bit of this. She describes it as taking advantage of the fact that despite the impression some people give, most folks will not hit you with a hammer if you "step out of line" and will be at a complete loss if you do.
In the Jack Ryan novel The Sum of All Fears, a group of German marxist/Arab sympathizers armed only with about ten purchased Russian colonel's uniforms manage to convince the entire Russian East Berlin garrison to launch an attack on their American counterparts. Though to be fair, disobedience in Soviet Russia was hardly the most healthy pastime.
Miles Vorkosigan pulls these off with remarkable skill. In The Warrior's Apprentice, he parlays an old freighter, a bodyguard, a friend and a couple of losers into a mercenary fleet — with him as its Admiral, a persona/disguise he would use on occasion for over ten years — in a matter of weeks, mostly by force of personality. Not only was he seventeen at the time, but the entire thing was a series of scrambling improvisations started by his impulsive effort to keep the pilot of said freighter (then docked at his mother's homeworld) from doing something stupid because it was about to be scrapped.
And then keeps said mercenary fleet (mostly) fooled until he was thirty. Miles Vorkosigan: Galactic Champion of Making Shit Up.
He called it "Forward Momentum."
Other characters often called Miles "that hyperactive little shit" for it, however. When he could not hear.
Miles very much gets this from his mother. The Vorkosigan Saga starts off before Miles is born, with Shards of Honor, featuring Miles' mom-to-be Cordelia Naismith, who in the course of that novel escapes from some government goons, then flim-flams her way past a couple of tabloid journalists and a spaceport ticket clerk, culminating in fast-talkingnote "I'm on a secret mission for the President." a young space freighter pilot into giving her an entirely unauthorized ride offplanet...all while wearing (presumably fuzzy) slippers. This some time after she'd already almost single-handedly quelled a mutiny on a Barrayaran military ship, despite being a prisoner on the ship at the time.
Fridge Brilliance bonus: Cordelia's "young space freighter pilot" and Miles's freighter pilot are the same person - Arde Mayhew. This is only hinted at in the books note "I'm sorry, Pilot Officer Mayhew", but Word of God supports this.
During that memorable snafu in Crown of Slaves he managed to enlist two Manticoran agents a group of neutral Solarian officers (with their squadron), a bunch of local nobles/dignitaries (who he was courting all that time, trying to pry them from Manticoran Alliance) and Royal Manticoran Navy Captain — all willingly and with their full support. They all knew who he was, but followed him anyway. He also pulls a truly impressive diversion on the Masadan freighter crew, claiming to be a rogue State Sec agent who could possibly use some madmen like them, including at one point "proving" his own fanaticism by ordering the Masadan in charge of the self-destruct to push the button and then sneering when he doesn't do it.
His feat in Fanatic was no less impressive, but there he had some real authority, just twisted it to his needs.
In 1634: The Galileo Affair, Captain Lennox and his company manage to work their way into the church where Galileo's trial was being held by pretending to be a Polish delegation, based solely on the Horse Marines being in full dress uniform and exactly one of the group of a half-dozen — Father Gus Heinzerling, a German Jesuit — able to speak Polish.
Subverted in 1635: The Cannon Law. Ruy Sanchez tells several Spanish soldiers that he is a captain in the Spanish army, and gets valuable information from them. The Americans think he's pulled a Bavarian Fire Drill, until Sharon informs them that Ruy is a captain in the Spanish army. He just left out the part where he's working for the Americans.
When he wasn't being a One-Man Army, Mack Bolan (from The Executioner series by Don Pendleton) would often pull this stunt on both the local police and the Mafia, usually by posing as an outside Fed or elite hitman sent from New York to kill Bolan.
So, we are approaching the climax of the Sherlock Holmes pastiche, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. Hot on the trail of the Big Bad, Holmes is in need of transportation. He employs a fairly illegal technique to do so ( i.e. hijacks a train at gunpoint), while a police sergeant is standing right behind him. The sergeant starts to protest, whereupon Holmes turns around, gives the man orders in his masterful way — and the sergeant runs off to execute them just on the strength of Holmes' delivery. It wasn't even a British policeman.
In his book, My Life in the Mafia, mobster-turned-informant Vincent Theresa tells of how he stole a load of blank driver's licenses. He walked into the factory, asked someone where they kept the blank licenses, picked up a box of them and walked out. Everyone he encountered just assumed he worked there.
A couple of Tom Holt's characters try this. Case in point: resurrected mercenary Kurt Lundqvist manages to hijack a plane by pretending to turn up to stop a hijacking, complete with using a library card to prove his identity.
Used in Redwall, when the young mouse Brome manages to strip a body of a foebeast off it's clothes, disguise himself, help a wounded foebeast (while in disguise) back to his encampment, infiltrating it, knocking out the wounded beast once inside, free all captives, recruiting one of them to pretend to be a second guard, leading the group of detainees to a secret exit, getting noticed by a real guard, then another "''real''" guard, managing to bluff themselves out of the conversation, twice, and finally escape the foe's encampment, nearly killing themselves in the consequential chase.
In Dragonlance, the kender have a saying: "Don't change color to match the walls. Act like you belong there and the walls will change color to match you!"
Used most famously when Tasslehoff Burrfoot, with a grin and a wave, was completely ignored by the guards inside one of the most secure government buildings in a city where anyone of his species is supposed to be arrested on sight.
In Inferno by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, the narrator and his guide Benito Mussolini blag their way into the Administrative Centre of Hell by looking like badly-dressed officials (who will be assumed to be secret police).
In Watership Down, the rabbit hero El-ahrairah (a Trickster god) does this in some of his adventures. Similarly, several protagonist rabbits imprisoned in another warren pull this to distract a guard.
In Glen Cook's Garrett, P.I. series, Garrett has done this on occasion, successfully entering and poking around crime scenes by acting like he's supposed to be there. As humans occupy so many positions of authority in Karenta, many nonhumans assume he's authorized to investigate simply because he's a human.
In The Lies of Locke Lamora, Locke often uses this to great effect in his schemes, pulling bystanders in and ordering them around to get the results he needs; he once notes that "it was strange, how readily authority could be conjured with nothing but a bit of strutting jackassery."
In Tim Dorsey's Serge A. Storms books, Serge and his accomplice Coleman pull off a series of ATM thefts simply by walking into a convenience store and wheeling the ATM out on a hand truck. The reason they were allowed to do it? Serge walked in with a clipboard and started making notes to project an air of authority.
Richard Marcinko uses this when testing security in various military and civilian installations, to surprising, and sometimes terror-inspiring effect. One instance has him express respect for a chef that did not fall for it, instead brandishing a meat cleaver and telling his character to return with an appointment for a health inspection.
In the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series Anita uses it to varying success to (in one case), bring along her Animator in training on a preternatural crime scene, get support from the police while under attack by zombies in her bedroom sent by a Vauduun High Priestess she rubbed the wrong way, and on many other occasions though usually without lying directly, merely manipulating the facts.
Scott Adams describes similar techniques in his books The Dilbert Principle and The Joy Of Work to escape meetings and unpleasant conversations. Most of them involve looking like you have more important things to be doing. Incidentally, he also recounts a story in his early days in the workforce when he tried this himself to get information he needed for a project by sounding more important than he was, but was seen through every time.
Also from Robert Anton Wilson, who co-wrote The Illuminatus! Trilogy, is The Schroedinger's Cat-trilogy, where it's at one point mentioned how Malaclypse the Younger started to drive around in a van with "United Cocaine Smugglers" written in a professional-looking font on the side. At first he got stopped by the police at every turn, the whole thing ended up in the news and the police became laughingstocks. Eventually they gave up, and stopped paying attention to the van. Suddenly there were hundreds of vans around the country with the same logo on their sides.
The Bene Gesserit in Dune practice a pseudo-mind control technique called "the Voice" that essentially works like this. It's not as subtle in application - basically, instead of sneaking a push of the authority button and hoping nobody notices you shouldn't be pushing it, the Voice involves ramming that button so hard that the attached brain(s) can't help but respond.
In Players of Gor, Tarl Cabot is rescued in a timely manner by Andronicus, the only serious actor in Boots Tarsk-Bit's troop, masquerading as a visiting general from an allied city. He says afterwards that "The Imperious General" is one of his best characterisations.
In Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code, Juliet pulls one by way of joining a SWAT. Artemis also pulls them frequently.
In Book 8 of the Ranger's Apprentice series, Will uses this to infiltrate an Outsider camp. One of Halt's many Ranger lessons is "Always seem to have a purpose. If people think there's a reason you're in a place, odds are they won't bother to challenge you."
Near the end of The Way of Kings, Kaladin pulls this when Dalinar's army is betrayed by Sadeas. Not only does he go back to rescue an entire army with only 30 men, but he also starts ordering around the soldiers who completely outrank him (he's a slave). To take it Up to Eleven, he then proceeds to promote soldiers, order around Adolin, the Highprince's son, and then decides to go find Dalinar, the Highprince and commanding general himself, and order him to flee. And it works!
In Futuretrack Five it's how Kitson and Keri gain access to the Cambridge Centre. Justified somewhat in that he did work there in a position of some authority (technically still does and everyone he encounters recognises him) and knows both his way around and the people he encounters; this knowledge also allows him to teach Keri to look and act like she belongs. He even tells everyone to look out for intruders dressed as Paramils to add to the confusion.
The Scarlet Pimpernel: The Pimpernel often uses this tactic. One example from the first book has a guard leader at a town gate, particularly determined to locate the Pimpernel, rigorously searching the carts and belongings of a group of traders and farmers. Once they're gone, however, a squad of soldiers rides up and announces that the Pimpernel has just smuggled a group of escaped prisoners through disguised as farmers and traders, prompting the alarmed guard to send them right through in pursuit. Only while the Pimpernel and the prisoners were disguised and did pass through that gate, they weren't disguised as farmers and traders...
In The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, the second book of the The Mysterious Benedict Society series, the main protagonist Reynard "Reynie" Muldoon tricks an unpleasant guard into letting him and the other members of the Society exit the house by stating that they were ordered to get some packages from the car, and then asking in a worried tone if he'll let them back in once they've got the packages. "After all, we do have permission."
In Star Trek: Cold Equations, book two, Lieutenant Chen is left in command of the Enterprise while the rest of the senior staff are on Orion, and ends up in a standoff with a Gorn ship and another Sovereign-class starship about to fire on each other. She notes internally that she doesn't have superior rank (the other Federation ship has a Lieutenant Commander in charge), a superior ship, or better knowledge of the tactical situation. Externally, she hides her rank insignia and bellows at the other Starfleet officer to back off (even snapping "That's an Order" despite the fact she doesn't outrank him). It works.
In Dick Francis' High Stakes, a caper involving switching three horses around is managed by setting up an official-looking roadside mobile office, flagging down the trucks for a "census" and getting the drivers to stand in line waiting to fill in forms, while outside their cargoes are being rearranged.
In Richard K Morgan's Altered Carbon, protagonist Takeshi Kovacs manages to bluff his way out of a summary execution following a virtual reality torture session by threatening the Envoy Corp's (Think big bad space marine types) wrath if they don't let him go. Downplayed in that he was an Envoy, but had left a fair time prior to the book's start.
In Eric Plume's Margin Play, one of these, of the "all you need to do is look like you belong there and know what you're doing" variety is how one character got the case files on a lawyer's client.
Live Action TV
30 Rock: Subverted when Jenna sneaks into a prince's birthday party. She claims that it's about walking proud, but it's really because she flashed the guards.
This is standard operating procedure for both the good and bad guys on 24.
In the vein of faking out Nazis, 'Allo 'Allo! did this a few times.
Angel has, at least once, gotten on to crime scenes and pumped the cop on the scene for information by playing the bossy plainclothes detective, no badge needed.
Indeed, instead of a badge the only thing Angel was holding was a cup of coffee. Which he had just stolen from another cop. File under Rule of Cool for sheer awesomeness (and the ringing sound of clanging steel spheres one might hear when Angel is walking).
He also snuck into the offices of Wolfram & Hart by pretending to be a lawyer by wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase. Despite the vampire detectors at the doors.
iCarly: Spencer pulls this off to get to the vault containing the severed head of a company's founder.
One running subplot on Arrested Development involved the character of Maeby (Alia Shawkat) who, despite being only 16 years old, gets a job as a movie producer simply by acting like she already was one. This, in turn, is based on an apocryphal story that Steven Spielberg got his first job at a movie studio by simply occupying an empty office and pretending he was supposed to be there.
Her deception was greatly helped by the fact that Tobias had been talking up the name Funke at the watercooler for the whole day, at Maeby's recommendation. And the reason she had done that was because she was skipping school by convincing Tobias that it was "Help Your Dad Achieve His Dream Day", which was another instance of this trope (not to mention that they only got into the film studio in the first place was because Maeby convinced the security guard that they were meant to be there; Maeby is a master of the Bavarian Fire Drill).
Runs in the family. In another episode, GOB pretended to be a waiter to mess with his mother. He was already wearing a black suit, so he simply grabbed a tray of drinks and walked over to her table. She had never looked a waiter in the face, so she didn't notice, and everyone else on staff assumed he was a new guy. At the end of the day, he was given all of his tips, and the narrator explained that GOB had just accidentally worked a day in his life.
Almost always twice, usually three times in the early seasons. See, before they hire the A-Team, any prospective employers need to be conned by Hannibal using a Bavarian Fire Drill just to make sure that they aren't really military police trying to capture them. Then Face needs to go and Bavarian Fire Drill a mental institution to get Howling Mad Murdock out for him to join the team again.
To pull another one to get the equipment/location/air tickets they need for this week's mission. This is so routine that the details are usually not shown.
Done on Buffy the Vampire Slayer by Rupert Giles, ineptly impersonating an agent of Interpol to get information out of a cop. It worked, but only because the cop was under a spell.
Used to Michael's advantage in many episodes of Burn Notice.
He also mentions that some marks are just too smart to fall for tricks like this, and therefore he has to use much more inventive methods. In one rather impressive example, he uses "reverse interrogation", setting himself up as a snitch to be interrogated by the bad guy, noting that while skilled interrogators are good at asking questions without revealing anything, bad interrogators will always tell you more than you tell them.
This also backfired when he needed the security camera tapes of a simple construction company, and a woman there was instantly suspicious of him, asking who he worked for and immediately phoning to check. Mike barely gets out ahead of security. This is one of the show's themes; no matter how good a spy you are, you're just as vulnerable as anyone else.
Michael once charged into a kitchen with a clipboard ordering everyone out, with his narration saying how clipboards are like IDs in certain places if you know how to use them.
In one episode, he needs to a device nicknamed "the Jaws of Life" for a job, but these things are used to save people from crashed cars and so on, so he doesn't want to steal one that might be needed. So he goes to a training center and tells them he needs to inspect theirs. When he finds out they're using it right then, he runs out screaming for them to stop, that there's a glitch in the device that could cause the blade to shoot out and cut someone in half. They hand it over very quickly.
It's implied that Michael's father had long used similar tricks for the purposes of petty theft (he had a closet full of assorted uniforms). Apparently Michael's training in deception started well before he was a spy.
Happens a lot in Doctor Who, partly because of narrative necessity, partly because the Doctor seems commanding and often knows what to do.
In "Aliens of London" he gets out of being held at gunpoint by a room full of armed soldiers by using this — when a scream sounds from another room he yells, "Defense plan Delta! Come on!" and runs out of the room, and they all instinctively follow his orders, even though he's presented no identification at all. Of course, we later learn they're UNIT soldiers, so presumably he learnt the correct code during his time working for them.
In Silver Nemesis, the TARDIS arrives in the present day on the grounds of a castle and the Doctor approaches the little old lady he sees confidently, telling Ace, "Act like we own the place... Always works. We own the place." Ace has to point out that the woman they're approaching really does own the place — and the place is Windsor Castle.
In The Shakespeare Code he tells Martha something similar to allay her concerns about walking around Elizabethan London: "Just walk around like you own the place, always works for me."
In The Curse of Fenric, the Doctor types out his own letter of authorisation and forges the signatures of the head of the secret service and the Prime Minister (at once, no less) in front of the person he's bluffing, and then hands them to him. They are accepted without question.
Assisted in the revival seasons by a new sample of Applied Phlebotinum known as 'Psychic Paper', which the reader sees as whatever form of credentials they think the Doctor needs... unless the viewer happens to be psychic enough to see through the illusion, like everyone working for Torchwood, or intelligent enough, like William Shakespeare. Also, lies too big will break it, as seen in A Christmas Carol, when it refuses to say he's "widely acknowledged as a mature and responsible adult".
Rose: This is psychic paper. It says whatever you want it to.
Jack: How'd you know?
Rose: Well, first, I have a friend who uses this all the time. Second, you just handed me a piece of paper that says you're single and work out.
Inverted in "Midnight". The Doctor does his usual thing with psychic paper, bluffing his way into the cabin and generally making it clear that he knows what he's doing... which leads the passengers to suspect he has something to do with the alien. The more he tries to take control of the situation, the more suspicious of him everyone becomes.
Used in The War Games to get into a military prison. One of the most impressive uses in the series - the Doctor has been convicted of espionage in wartime and has escaped from prison. He is not in uniform, or even a proper suit, and he has a gaping HOLE in the knee of his trousers, and yet managed to bluff the prison commander for a solid chunk of time just by knowing what to say and shouting loudly.
In an episode of Get Smart, Max managed to order soldiers about to execute him to turn around just before their boss (who was standing right behind them) orders them to fire. The reason? They were Ruritanian soldiers, and Ruritanian soldiers are always more-or-less brainwashed into "obeying orders" without thinking.
Heroes: Sylar (technically a wanted Serial Killer) in the Volume 3 episode "One of Us, One of Them". He fakes being an FBI agent, and gets the cops to 1) pull back their barricades, giving him and Bennet room to work, and 2) get him some coffee.
Even more audacious in that he uses the name "Andrew Hanson" as his cover, a reference to Audrey Hanson, the real FBI agent who was in charge of tracking him down during the first series.
This is almost becoming a Discredited Trope in the UK: thanks to that show, and the fact that the real police are also perfectly willing to engage in this sort of activity if they find it useful, most younger British people lack much of a sense of social compliance.
No longer a Discredited Trope here in the United Kingdom now; documentaries show it being used too, so Hustle no longer seems to hold any influence for this. Probably because of The Mentalist it's now more popular.
Which ended up being surreal, as the target of the investigation railed against people following orders without question...and then proceeded to order people around without being questioned by those he was ordering. He went from being against the sheep mentality to being the shepherd.
An episode dealing with two missing girls leads them to a man who faked being from Social Services just taking the girls from their guardians. Neither one questioned who he really was. The first was a crackhead mother, so it's plausible that she could be fooled by such a ploy, but the second girl was taken from an experienced foster mom who should have known better.
Done all the time in Leverage, often by Hardison or Ford.
In the old Mission: Impossible, the IMF regularly pretended to be part of the organization they were infiltrating.
A skit from the MST3K episode "The Screaming Skull" has Pearl, Bobo, and Observer putting on penguin costumes and using Bavarian Fire Drill tactics to try and trick Mike and the bots into dressing in a similar fashion. After laughing at Mike and the bots' pathetic attempts at costumes, Pearl, Bobo, and Observer come to the sad realization that they themselves are even more pathetic thanks to the massive amount of effort they put into their lame joke.
Shawn in Psych has a tendency to do this; partly because his 'psychic' abilities (read: keen observational skills and theatrical nature) tend to throw people off their guard and result in them buying anything he'll tell them, and partly because he's The Charmer who can twist almost anyone around his little finger.
The few times it hasn't worked (it's not foolproof), Shawn has literally been struck dumb.
One particularly audacious example had Shawn pretending to be a chief resident doctor doing rounds with interns in order to figure out what was wrong with a comatose patient. When he couldn't understand their medical terminology, he told them to dumb it down for the comatose patients, and they did.
Or the time he managed to convince multiple people at a comic convention that he was George Takei's personal assistant. Including George Takei himself.
"The blueberries are still wrong. I requested North Carolina blueberries but they sent me Michigan blueberries."
Often used by Frank Parker in 7Days, even when his status as an actual NSA agent could get him whatever he wants.
Although, it's likely because while Frank does have actual NSA clearance, anyone taking the time to look up his records would note that he spent some time in a mental hospital, making his "top secret government work" look highly dubious or forged. Given that he's on a tight timescale, it's far easier to bluff instead of wasting time answering pointless questions.
Apparently people don't get any smarter about this in the future: in an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, a group of Genius Ditzes managed to order their way onto the station to see Bashir simply because one was dressed as an admiral. When questioned, the "admiral" would simply act irritable, snap "That's a stupid question!", and the cowed crewmember would back off.
A bit of Truth in Television. Part of the training is adhering to the rank structure and chain of command. Unless your job specifically deals with "don't confuse your rank with my authority," it'll take quite a bit to arouse suspicion. On the other hand, military members are still taught they can disobey any order that violates personal decency, morals, or laws.
In "The Search, Part II" a group of Jem'Hadar soldiers ambushes and tries to arrest Sisko and co. as they attempt to close the wormhole. Garak gets them out of it by pretending to be The Mole and then shooting the Jem'Hadar once they let their guard down.
Almost every episode of Supernatural involves the brothers posing as police, FBI, or even priests to gain access to evidence or question witnesses.
Inverted in the early episodes, where the brothers are incredibly unsuccessful at this, usually because people question their covers and it completely falls apart.
Police Officer: Hold it!
Dean: Whoa, whoa, whoa, guys. False alarm. I tripped the system.
Officer: Who are you?
Dean: I'm the boss's kid.
Officer: You're Mr. Yamishiro's kid?
Played straight in one episode "Hollywood Babylon", where Dean gets mistaken for a PA on a movie set, and goes with it. He originally does it just so he has unlimited access to check for EMF, but finds himself surprisingly good at it, and enjoying it.
And in the episode "Something Wicked", while passing as a CDC agent, Sam is initially worried that they will get caught because his most relevant ID identifies him as a "Bikini Inspector". The hospital receptionist pauses and directs them to their destination, after which point they go to the opposite floor.
In one episode, while posing as FBI agents, they run into an actual federal agent who starts questioning the validity of the brothers' identities, and asks to talk to their superiors. Dean reluctantly hands him a number, the real agent calls it, and the audience assumes that their cover's blown... until we see that the number connects to Bobby who poses as their boss, chews out the agent, and then turns around to finish making breakfast in his kitchen. Dean and Sam's skill at this trope is so ridiculous that it verges into Refuge in Audacity and Crazy-Prepared at times.
That ploy itself fell apart in one episode where they were working on a case in Bobby's home town, were questioned by the sheriff, gave her the number and she called it. And recognized Bobby's voice over the phone. Fortunately the town had a Broken Masquerade anyway.
They are shameless. They once convinced a little girl that they were "teddy bear doctors" by showing her one of their many fake badges but waving it around so that she couldn't read it.
Sam has fooled patients several times by posing as a hospital orderly/counselor/whatever simply by dressing the part. One of the reasons the writers favor this con is probably related to how Jared Padelecki looks ridiculously excellent in white scrubs.
Apparently Dean and John relied more on fake ID's. Sam favors "costumes" more (at least in the first season) - Dean complained about the cost of buying worker coveralls and cheap business suits. In later seasons (when Sam looked less like a kid) they've become better able to convince people that they are government agents.
The opening of the season-two episode "The Usual Suspects" contains a hilarious montage of some of their more brazen claims. And that's only in the first two seasons.
The ploy broke down hilariously in the Season 8 episode "LARP and The Real Girl" where Sam and Dean attempt to infiltrate a group of people who were engaging in medieval role-play by impersonating FBI agents. Two players immediately called them out on it because their ID's were out of date. They then assumed the brothers were members of an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT role-play group which met on a different day and told them what they wanted to know anyway.
Erin: You guys know you're not allowed in the building anymore, how'd you get past security? Titus: You walk in with confidence, nobody bothers you. Dave: I wore a hat.
In a flashback on The West Wing, it's revealed that this is how Donna started working for the Bartlet campaign: she walked into the campaign office and started answering phones. Josh was pretty quick in catching her, but he liked her spunk and so kept her as his assistant.
An episode of The Closer centered around finding a man who had interfered with a murder investigation by pretending to be the lead detective in charge of collecting evidence and interviewing suspects. Notably, he not only fooled the suspects, he initially fooled the other cops, including the assistant chief. It helped that he believed he was a cop.
Especially funny in this case, as the man identified himself as Detective Richard Tracy.
In White Collar this is Neal'smodus operandi to the point that he uses it to walk right out of prison.
In Firefly Simon does this twice: once when he "impersonates" a doctor (he really is a doctor, but not at that hospital) in "Ariel" (he even catches a rookie doctor's mistake and intervenes to save the patient's life), and in the movie when he disguises himself as an imperious Obstructive Bureaucrat to get into the Academy.
Subverted in the same episode as the rest of the crew prepares to perform a BFD to gain entrance to a hospital: getting paramedic uniforms, ID cards, learning the terminology, etc... only to be let in without so much as a second glance.
To make matters even funnier, Jayne, determined to put his effort in learning a script to use, recites a sentence of medical jargon no one asked for. The security guards' expressions are priceless.
Earlier in Jaynestown, Simon is forced into this role by Mal because he looks like a respectable person with a lot of money to spend at the mud farm. He doesn't do very well, but the foreman isn't bright enough to be suspicious.
Simon: Savings. Excellent, that's— because as I said before, I'll be needing quite a bit of it... I—I'm a buyer.
This is one of the favorite manipulation methods of Patrick Jane, title character of The Mentalist. When trespassing, he easily convinced the police that he was the homeowner and that the homeowner was the trespasser, or at least had them seriously confused.
Another example was being trapped in a room with a known killer. He holds his cell phone like a gun and talks just like a law enforcement officer holding a gun, confusing the killer enough that he's able to get the door open and let the people holding guns enter.
Zoey Woodbine (Alicia Witt) on Cybill was good at these. In a similar instance to the above Catch Me If You Can example, she once passed as a teacher at her own school, and even received a paycheck.
Subverted and Parodied with Kramer's alter ego, Dr. Von Nostrand.
But another time Kramer ended up with a "job" at Brant/Leland, taking meetings and writing reports, even though he didn't get paid. Eventually they had to "fire" him for incompetence.
Leland: I'm sorry. There's just no way that we could keep you on.
Kramer: I don't even really work here!
Leland: That's what makes this so difficult.
In another episode George wasn't sure whether he was hired at a firm or not, so he just went in while the boss was out of town and pretended to work on the Pensky file in an empty office.
Hilariously subverted in at least 2 episodes of Seinfeld, by Kramer. In one episode, he wanders into a law firm's building to use the bathroom and ends up getting swept into a meeting. Everyone assumes he works there, and he ends up doing just that for several days, before being called into a meeting where he gets 'fired' for his shoddy performance. Also happens when he gets a job as a seat filler at the Tony Awards, where he inadvertently ends up getting caught in the crowd heading to the stage to accept an award, resulting in him attending several showbiz parties while brandishing an unearned Tony award. In neither case was he trying to get his own way or manipulate people, he was the one just going with the flow, which is exactly the sort of behaviour required by others for the trope to work.
In the fourth season of Babylon 5, the rescue of Sheridan from Clark's goons involved Garibaldi donning his old Earth Force uniform and walking into the prison under the pretense of being sent (off the record, of course) to interrogate Sheridan. (This only works because Garibaldi was the one who captured Sheridan in the first place, and the guard recognizes him from the news reports.)
It doesn't work so well on the next set of guards, though, as the guard Garibaldi tries to bluff doesn't watch TV. As a result, Garibaldi and his two partners (Dr. Franklin and Lyta) have to take that pair of guards out using more physical methods.
Veronica Mars: Keith Mars got in serious trouble for doing this, since impersonating government officers is illegal. His daughter gets away with it on multiple occasions, however.
In the season four finale of 30 Rock, Tina Fey's character begins to fall in love with an airline pilot named Carol, played by Matt Damon, who manages to enter a wedding reception with no trouble.
Carol: Yeah, if you walk briskly in a pilot uniform, you can go pretty much anywhere. I was once in the Lincoln bedroom of the White House.
One Candid Camera Prank involved having a man dressed as a police officer stand with a flimsy white barrier gate. When somebody came up, he would inform them that Delaware was closed today, but that they could go to New Jersey if they wanted. It worked.
One dupe, upon being informed that Delaware was closed, replied "Good."
In The Office, Pam bluffs her way to getting promoted to office administrator by claiming the paperwork got lost and taking advantage of the fact that most of the office's committees consist of one person each, all of which are good friends with her.
Nellie does the same thing in Season Eight, sitting down at Andy's desk and getting his manager job by asserting it is now hers.
In Trigger Happy TVDom Joly frequently uses this to comic effect, pretending to be a traffic warden, scout, spy and park warden.
More than once while standing in front of a ten foot high picture of himself reading 'DO NOT TRUST THIS MAN'.
Jeff Winger on Community uses this frequently. The plot of the series is kicked off when he creates a study group by convincing his classmates that he is a "board certified Spanish tutor".
That's nothing compared to what he was doing before the series began. Namely, successfully pretending to be a board certified lawyer for years.
In one episode of The Big Bang Theory, Howard "borrows" a robot from NASA. When Penny questions him about it, he says that "the trick is to carry it out to your car like you own it".
Penne from Life Support advised viewers wanting to avoid lines for concert tickets to wear fake Ticketek shirts and tell everyone the tour was cancelled.
Chris Morris plays with this trope a lot. One of his shows, Brass Eye, was largely based around convincing B-List Celebrities and Politicians to star in absurd PSA's by first off preying on their egos and self importance, and then acting like it's a deadly serious campaign and somehow managing to keep a straight face while they read from an increasingly bizarre script he hands them.
"Genetically, Paedophiles have more genes in common with crabs than they do with you and me ... there's no real evidence for it, but it is scientific fact!"
Sherlock is prone to these to get himself into places he isn't supposed to be, but the absolute apex has to be "The Hounds of Baskerville". Sherlock gets himself and John into a top secret military base using Mycroft's government ID, but it's John who pulls rank on the Corporal and uses his military background to deflect the man's suspicion.
Moriarty managed to pass as a Taxi driver to drive Sherlock to a location, and Sherlock doesn't notice him until he gets out of the cab and attempts to pay the fare. "No Charge"
In The Wire, drug dealer Proposition Joe gets information about the whereabouts of a police officer by calling the police station and asking about him. He changes his name several times during his phone call, all while doing his impersonation of a white person.
Boston Legal - A client suspected of murder has had candid photos taken of her and posted online by a teenager. Brad gets into the kid's house by telling his mom that he is not allowed to say he's from the FBI, and holding up his wallet without opening it.
"Im investigating a potential crime. Now, if I had the authority to reveal I was with the FBI, I would say so. But until certain clearances are satisfied, I’m not officially at liberty to tell you anything. Now as far as you’re concerned you never heard me say that I’m with the FBI, which, for the record, of course I’m not. I need to speak with your son immediately. I think you would like to arrange that before others speak with him. I’m sure you know what I mean."
In The City Hunter, the hero's sidekick Shik Jong barges into the conference hall control room and starts ordering the staff around. They follow the orders for quite a while before someone notices his ID is fake.
In one episode of Scrubs, J.D. dons a lab coat to look more "official." The Janitor decides to wear one as well, just to mess with him. When the Janitor sits with J.D. in the cafeteria, a woman comes up to ask a question. The Janitor explains that the janitors at Sacred Heart wear lab coats as well, leading to the woman complimenting both the Janitor and J.D. on the great job they do.
This is basically the entire plot of The Riches. A family of Travelers find a rich couple dying in a car accident (because some of their enemies ran the couple off the road), and decide to steal their identities. The rich husband was a lawyer, while the Traveler husband only has experience in the law in avoiding it. But he manages to fool everyone at his new job. In one particularly memorable instance, he gets himself a position as guest speaker at a local law college. He brings in a big bag of mini-cookies, tells them "I know nothing about law," and starts asking them questions, giving them cookies when they give him answers that sound good. He coasts through the rest of the first season on the knowledge gained from that class.
The entire premise of Suits is that Mike, a genius college dropout, has successfully convinced the entirety of the New York business elite that he is a Harvard-educated lawyer, with only his boss Harvey's word as a vouchsafe.
And in addition to this first deception, this is a trademark of Mike's. He gets information from a witness by implying he work for the Department of Justice, he's gotten onto a booked tour of Harvard by pretending to work for the Dean`s office, and he`s crashed a party full of Harvard graduates, getting himself into the official Class of 2011 group photo, despite having never gone to the school.
One episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation had the team brushing up against an FBI team investigating a possible human trafficking ring after one of their agents was murdered in the field. It eventually turns out that the "FBI agents" are actually mental patients united by a shared, Don Quixote-like delusion (but their actions do lead to breaking up a trafficking ring).
Inverted on Primeval, when Danny (then just a cop) starts helping the team fight dinosaurs. They all know he's not a member of the team, but he doesn't seem to know it. Eventually, they give up, and put him on the roster.
In an episode of The District, a rapist working at a shop that repaired Metro Police cars used access to official cars and a police uniform to get close enough to intended victims to capture them for the assault. This didn't do any favors for the real MPD (particularly one officer who bore a superficial resemblance to witness descriptions of their attacker), when news stories about the rapist mentioned his MO. Sergeant Brander even wound up being shot by a panicking motorist stopped for a traffic violation, though he was wearing a bulletproof vest under his uniform shirt at the time, so he wasn't harmed.
On The X-Files Mulder has real authority as an FBI agent. This, however, is a civilian office and cuts no ice at military installations where he wants to poke around. To get into these he puts on an air of authoritative condescension and psychs whoever's on guard duty.
Breaking Bad: in "Cornered", Jesse wants to entice some meth heads, who have stolen some Blue Sky, out of their home. How does he do this? he grabs a shovel and starts digging outside. One of the meth heads comes outside and asks what he's doing. Jesse tells him he's digging and asks him to take over, leaving the house open and unguarded.
The Hardy Boys Nancy Drew Mysteries: subverted in the third season episode "Game Plan". Joe pretends to be a hotel maintenance man to get into a room where Frank and the Big Bad are talking. Joe puts on a phony redneck accent, pushes right into the room past Frank and shoves his ballcap into Frank's hands (the ballcap containing a note warning Frank of a federal raid) and proceeds to completely confuse the Big Bad with pseudo-technical-babble about the AC being on the fritz (taking the thermostat apart with his screwdriver as he does so)...until Frank blows it out of the water by showing the Big Bad the note, then pulling a gun on Joe. The federal agents eventually find Joe tied up & gagged in the apartment's closet.
In the Season 1 finale of House of Cards (US), Lucas Goodwin manages to find out Rachel Posner's location from another D.C. prostitute by convincing her that he's an undercover vice detective. He plays "John" long enough to get her to offer him sex for money, then threatens to arrest her for prostitution if she doesn't tell him what he wants to know. He doesn't even have to show any credentials, as he also convinces her that he can't publicly show his badge unless he's making an arrest; because he shows up with a copy of Rachel's mugshot, though, the woman assumes that he has to be the real deal.
Played straight and then subverted in an episode of Frasier. Daphne learns that one of Niles's female patients, Heather, has fallen in love with him, so she and Roz go to Heather's office to see what they can find out about her. Roz fools Heather's assistant by claiming to be from corporate, but then pushes her luck by trying the same tactic on Heather.
Heather(suspiciously): How could you have "flown in" from corporate? Corporate's downstairs.
In Richard Wagner's Götterdämmerung, Hagen calls the Gibichung vassals to the wedding by bellowing about danger and woe. It ought to be mentioned here that Richard Wagner was a Bavarian (by residence, at least, though a Saxon by birth).
In 7 Days a SkepticDr. "Jonathen Somerset" is actually a completely different person; the main character posed as him to get onto a spaceship.
In the Ace Attorney series, specifically in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Justice For All, you meet a man in a hospital who claims to be the hospital's director. The illusion falls apart very quickly, however, as it rapidly becomes apparent he's just a lecherous mental patient in a lab coat, looking for an excuse to gawk at/fondle female patients/nurses. He's not trying very hard, though; he even admits it to you at one point. Eight years later, in Apollo Justice, he's still at it.
Team Fortress 2 has this as a game mechanic. Being a Spy consists entirely of pretending you're supposed to be there until you decide to shiv somebody. Consider this: spies carry around a device that shorts out Engineer buildings. When disguised as an Engineer, you can look as if you're carrying a wrench, even if you're ready to shoot somebody in the head. Most engineers spend the better part of their time loitering around their sentries and dispensers doing absolutely nothing a Spy can't pretend to do whacking them furiously with their wrench, even when nothing is happening. Unfortunately, a spy can't pretend to swing his wrench without losing his disguise. So, the end result is that most engineers are wise enough by now to just spy-check anyone near their stuff.
An exaggerated example is when a disguised spy charges up to an enemy medic shouting for healing. Many medics will just start healing (or maybe even ubercharging you). There are even achievements for doing this.
Another is disguising one's self as a Heavy and grabbing an enemy Medic, a few Soldiers and Demomen or whoever else and lead a charge into your own base...only to have them get mowed down by sentries that they assumed weren't there as they weren't firing on you. Bonus points if the Medic blows his Ubercharge on you in the attempt.
Used by Francis in Left 4 Dead at various times, even though he doesn't really need to. "Most people will do anything if a cop tells them to."
In the Sacrifice comic, he attempts to pass off the looting of a television by pretending to be a cop gathering evidence. To an actual cop.
Francis: "...and that's why I'm going to prison."
In Mass Effect 2, one of the missions requires Shepard to sneak into restricted areas of the Citadel. When s/he gets caught, one of the Renegade interrupts has him/her start yelling about how there is a bomb in the area that's about to explode... and the guy believes him/her. Even Shepard laughs at how easily it worked.
The other Renegade interrupt has Shepard knocking the guy out.
The Paragon version has Shepard claiming that s/he's a health inspector on a surprise visit. The witness then quickly decides that it's not their problem.
In Saints Row 2, you pull this, pretending to be a repairman in order to break into police HQ. It doesn't work out very well, though.
It works out somewhat better in Saints Row: The Third, where you disguise yourself as one of the Nyte Blayde Villains in order to kidnap Josh Birk (the actor who plays Nyte Blayde). The Boss, however, is quick to blow their cover once they're inside by punching Birk in the face, knocking him out.
Hitman, on occasion. Some levels you don't need to get a disguise, because your suit already blends in enough.
In Heavy Rain, playable character Scott Shelby really isn't a private detective investigating the killings. He is the killer, getting rid of evidence against him. In one ending, the charade falls apart when the woman he was romancing (the mother of one of his victims) called the other victims' families and realized none of them had hired him, contrary to his claims.
You also convince the Kaocho generals that the king sent you to help sack Ayuthay (he asked you to do so, but you refused); subverted when the people of Ayuthay overhear this discussion and are understandably upset when you get into their sanctuary.
Adam can do this a couple times in Deus Ex: Human Revolution: first to a pair of non-security workers in the FEMA base, then to the guards in the Tai Yong Medical building. Both times you have to pick the right dialogues for it to work, otherwise they just attack you.
In Perfect Dark Zero's first mission, you literally trip the fire alarm to clear the nightclub of innocents. Later, to shut down enemy communications stealthily enter the Big Bad's palace, you use a voice changer to pass yourself off as a male guest or repairman. Pick the wrong dialogue, and your cover is blown. Don't forget to take out the Insecurity Camera at the front door before entering. You can pull a similar trick in the Laboratory Rescue mission to get the guards to stand down, but it doesn't work on all of them.
In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, during the "Diplomatic Immunity" quest, an Altmer Dragonborn wearing Thalmor Robes has the unique option to simply walk around the Thalmor Embassy unhindered, as well as ordering people to get out of their way when questioned. Almost everyone is scared enough of the Thalmor that they'll scurry to do whatever you say.
Corso Riggs: One day you have to show me how you do that.
When caught by Imperial guards wandering around a secret facility on Nar Shaddaa, the wise and diplomatic Jedi Consular suddenly affects an Imperial accent and begins to throw their weight around, acting like a stereotypical Sith Lord. This comes completely out of nowhere and more surprisingly, works.
In Grand Theft Auto V, one option for pulling off the "Bureau Raid" mission is an extended, literal version of this. The mission: Retrieve some incriminating computer files from the FIB's West Coast headquarters. The plan: Michael infiltrates the building in advance disguised as a janitor to plant firebombs in strategic locations, meets up with Franklin and two hired gunmen, sets off the bombs, then leads the entire crew back into the (now burning) building disguised as firefighters to retrieve the containment drive that all the FIB's important files get moved to in an emergency.
The "subtle" approach for completing "The Big Score" involves Michael and Trevor disguising themselves as security guards to infiltrate the Union Depository vault and remove four tons of gold bullion right under the government's nose.
Fitcher invokes this to save Riou in Greenhill in Suikoden II. When Riou and his party arrive in the town square and see Jowy leading a campaign to find Greenhill's mayor Theresa, Pilika rushes towards Jowy and the party is exposed to the Highland Army. Fitcher then shouts out to the masses that Riou is a wanted criminal and has a very high bounty on him, which triggers a riot and allows Riou and the others to escape while the Highland Army fends off the mob.
Shadowrun Returns (in its core campaigns) offers several opportunities to pull these using the Etiquettes system, particularly the Corporate and Security etiquettes.
In Final Fantasy VIII, teen mercenary Selphie and two of her companions set out to stop a Galbadian missile launch. With the correct player input, they accomplish this by disguising themselves as Galbadian soldiers, rolling up to the missile base in a stolen military vehicle, and trooping around following whatever orders they're handed until they're given free access to the base's power generator, the missile launchers, the missile guidance system, and finally the base's command room itself.
One Metroid comic had a sprite shooting a pillar for two or three comics, under the pretense that shooting is like holding a clipboard - everyone just assumes you're doing something productive.
In PvP, Brent, after discovering that working at an Apple store won't let him get a free iPhone, walks outside and tells everyone waiting in line on the opening day that they'll need to move a few feet back. After they do, he walks into the open space at the front of the line and quits his job so that he's first in line. This might have worked better if this plan hadn't required he then stand in front of several outraged customers until the store officially opened.
A later storyline features a guy managing to successfully convince Brent and Cole that he was the Devil, by telling them things he couldn't (or at least, shouldn't) be able to know about them, before revealing that the whole shenanigan was actually a sales pitch, trying to get Cole to hire not-the-devil to improve their computer security.
Sticks, a minor character in Goblins, pulled one of these during his backstory. Sticks is an orc who was imprisoned in Brassmoon, but managed to escape the prison with the help of another orc named Hawl and an ogre named Boulder. Coincidentally, their jailbreak coincides with a siege of Brassmoon by Greyblood orcs, and Sticks bluffs a guard into thinking he and his companions have been polymorphed so they can infiltrate the orc army.
In Schlock Mercenary, Tagon's Toughs tried to do this while evacuating a building they needed to demolish. It didn't work well at first, until they got creative, by either firing plasma weapons at the ceiling or telling people that the coffee guy was taking the day off.
In Drowtales, a light elf tells a group of assassins to stop. He then explains to the people they were attacking that he doesn't have the authority, but they listen to him anyway because they're so used to following orders, while still in earshot of the assassins.
Sam Starfall: Quick! Where's the nearest concentration of valuables that would easily fit into a pocket? Varroa Jacobsoni: Pharmaceutical storage on the second floor. Sam: I'll search there. You go that way!
In The 10 Doctors, the Daleks mistake the Sixth Doctor for someone called "The Keeper", and he decides to play along. (It helps somewhat that the more recognizable Fourth Doctor is along to deflect suspicions.) When a high-ranking Dalek demands that Six verify his claims, Six immediately accuses the Dalek of being a enemy Dalek spy with a quick paint job (helped that the Dalek's gold embossments look out of place, although they are legitimate) and demands that he verify his identity by explaining who The Keeper is supposed to be.
Epic Tales has a story in which Shadow Hawk goes up to a cop, from behind so that the cop doesn't see him, and begins asking what's going on, in his most commanding voice. The cop answers his questions, and only after Shadow Hawk says that he can take care of the villain does the cop turn around to see who he's been giving information to.
Attempted by Gaven in The Tale Of The Exile, who poses as a cook to avoid a manhunt. It backfires when a customer complains and all the other cooks put the blame on him, since he's the one nobody else knows and thus is an easy scapegoat.
The Bastard Operator from Hell has used this numerous times, often with very fatal results for his victims. He refers to it as "putting a (l)user in dummy mode".
Tried writ large by General MacArthur's military junta in the Alternate History timeline Reds. It backfires spectacularly.
During one of Spoony'sCounter Monkey videos, he encourages players to try this out every once in a while (but not every time, as the DM will eventually get tired of it and have it not work) when having to infiltrate something, citing one time his character broke into an enemy stronghold through the front door using the "Bardic Knock Spell" a.k.a. just knocking on the door and killing whoever opens it.
Occurs in the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "The Boiling Rock: Part II" when Sokka, dressed as a rookie prison guard, convinces an actual guard to release all of the prisoners into the yard...during a lockdown. Of course he uses the Warden's "authority" as backup...
In the Storm Hawks episode "A Little Trouble," Finn, disguised as a Cyclonian maintenance tech, evades capture when he accidentally steps on another tech's head by helping him with what he was working on. Then the squad is admonished by a passing supervisor for standing around when they should be working. No one ever notices until the Dark Ace recognizes their faces and points it out.
This came as a surprise to the others, because, in a much straighter version of the "don enemy uniforms to infiltrate their base" strategy, they were trying not to be seen, and the uniforms were a flimsy backup in case they were spotted. It had never occurred to them that pretending to be maintenance techs might work.
The Eds try to scam Johnny with one of these at the beginning of the Ed, Edd n Eddy episode "Urban Ed", disguising it as a game of Calvin Ball:
Eddy: That's home plate, and here's the banana! Johnny: Banana?
Used more successfully in an earlier episode where Edd manages to get Johnny out of his spot at the swimming hole simply by blowing a whistle, which makes Johnny leap up and do a swan dive, assuming he's trying out for swim team. Eddy calls it brilliant after the fact.
The Mad Hatterbot in Futurama's insane robot asylum episode did this. Other characters do it too, but mostly without success.
A more low-key example of this is how the Planet Express crew got into the Central Bureaucracy in "How Hermes Requisitioned His Groove Back."
In one of the episodes of Wacky Races, Dick Dastardly and Muttley use a fire engine horn and the other racer's respect for authority to pass right by them to the front of the pack. Dastardly even calls it the "Old Phony Fire-Engine Routine".
Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Of all the characters to pull off a Bavarian Fire Drill, especially those with Force powers, C3P0 manages to get a pair of Battle Droids to stop guarding a room he was trying to get into by warning about a incoming Jedi and just continuing to walk on past them when they dash off.
The same episode features Jar Jar Binks being mistaken for a Jedi because of his robe and he plays the role for all it's worth.
An episode of Family Guy combined this with Go Look at the Distraction. Peter and Lois get caught by police at a teenage drinking party ("Aren't you two a little old to be drinking illegally?"). Peter tells Lois to "Look over there!" and the cops to "Run!". The cops run away.
Peter convinced a hotel desk clerk that he was Mel Gibson and just didn't look like himself because he had gained weight for an upcoming role.
Quagmire also pulls this on Jillian, telling her that he was a boob inspector and she let him in the apartment because he had a badge (actually a Snicker's wrapper).
An episode of South Park spoofing 24 had various federal agencies busting into Kyle's room, taking over control of the situation, to where the first agency head would claim "I'm in command here!" the other would state "Not anymore you're not!" Towards the end, after becoming a running gag, Kyle arbitrarily says "Not anymore you're not!" to the last guy, prompting him to go "Aw, snap..." and walk away.
In the Daffy Duck cartoon "Daffy Dilly", Daffy is a novelty salesman trying to get past the snooty butler of a sickly millionaire so he can cheer the millionaire up. Daffy eventually gets rid of the butler by accusing him of trying to off his boss in order to get his hands on the fortune. Daffy's hard-boiled police detective impression is so convincing, he intimidates the butler into skipping town: "Just to show I'm not all copper, I'll give you a ten-minute head start!"
On Phineas and Ferb, Mad Scientist Dr. Doofenshmirtz once tried to take over the Tri-State Area by simply...going on the TV and announcing that he had taken over the Tri-State Area. The mayor (his brother) wasn't fooled, but the government agency charged with fighting him went into an absolute panic.
Phineas and Ferb's own techniques could be seen as a form of this: the boys don't consider their projects inappropriate for a pair of ten-ish-year-olds to do, and since they act accordingly adults just sort of assume there's nothing wrong with it either. (It probably helps that they also get building permits.)
"Aren't you a little young to be (insert latest project here)?
A sort of reverse Bavarian Fire Drill happened in one episode: Candace discovers that the boys have built a truck stop on the roof of the RV the family rented. In the middle of her "you guys are soooo busted" rant, she starts working at the diner without even really thinking about it, and makes it all the way through the song sequence before she realizes what she's doing. She BFD'ed herself!
This is a key weapon in Bugs Bunny's arsenal. Notable examples include tricking the Sheriff of Nottingham into buying real estate on the Royal Rose Garden ("Rabbit Hood"), convincing Elmer that he needs a fricasseeing rabbit license to shoot him ("Duck, Rabbit, Duck!"), and restraining Marvin the Martian in a straitjacket by claiming that his spaceship has struck an iceberg and putting him in a "lifejacket" ("Hasty Hare").
Subverted in G.I. Joe: Renegades, where Scarlet's attempts to use this to get Duke out of a local police station fail miserably.
Bill uses this in King of the Hill when, after stealing a tank while drunk then attempting to return it to the base, he is pulled over by the cops. At this point, Bill's arm is in a cast, he's weraing nothing but his boxers, and he smells horrible. Using a full-on drill instructor voice, he commands them to get back in their car and pretend they never saw a thing. He even gets a date out of the female of the duo.
In "The Great Money Caper" Homer and Bart try grifting and are successful for a while until a man who says he is from the FBI arrests them for fraud. He actually has a Colgate Cavity Patrol badge, takes their bag of cash, and drives off.
In an episode of Rugrats, a pair of seemingly-legit regulatory officials audit a bank's security. In one of their characteristic adventures, the babies accidentally trip the silent alarm. It's only revealed when the cops show up that the duo are, in fact, notorious bank robbers.
In the episode of Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends where Wilt, Ed, Coco, and Bloo compete for a vacant room, the four friends challenge each other to complete various goofy tasks, a fast-running challenge that Bloo eventually moves to the kitchen, where Frankie takes advantage of the Calvinball-esque pace of the contest by just shouting at them to do several of her housekeeping chores competitively, in a manner following this trope.
One way you can skip an annoying class in school is by walking outside after the previous class & calmly sitting on the porch. People tend to assume you were let out early & are waiting for your ride.
In CPR and lifesaving classes, students are taught to use this for good, because individuals may be reluctant to assist in an emergency due to the bystander effect. For example, a rescuer should address a specific person (e.g. "you, the lady in the blue dress") when asking for someone to call for an ambulance, instead of a general request ("Would someone call an ambulance?").
A related instruction given in self-defense courses is to never yell "Help!" because of the chance that some people will be less likely to respond if there is a threat of danger. Instead, when threatened, you should yell "Fire!", because that will attract more people. (Within reason, obviously - if there are police/security guards within hearshot then "Help" is better - more likely to bring professional assistance who aren't impeded by curious on-lookers. If there are so many people that yelling "Fire" may cause a dangerous panic, then of course you should yell "Help!" instead.)
Frank Abagnale, the notorious con artist the book and film Catch Me If You Can are based, used this to pull off many of his cons. In one instance, he purchased a security guard's uniform and stood at a bank's overnight depository, telling patrons who pulled up to make their deposits that the depository was broken, but that he would be more than happy to secure their money. According to IMDb, they planned to include the same scam in the movie, but during filming people came up to Leonardo DiCaprio in costume and tried to give him their money.
The trick was featured in Neil Gaiman's American Gods, and in an episode of Hustle. Danny would've gotten more if he hadn't started opening accounts for people.
Germany was united in the 19th Century by the Prussians, whose aristocracy was arguably the most militaristic in Europe. Their obsession with things military spread across the country. At one point, a con artist dressed in the uniform of a German army captain entered a good-sized town claiming to be an "inspector." In less than an hour, he ordered four grenadiers, a sergeant as well as six other soldiers to follow him (of whom no-one questioned his authority), ordered the local police to stop any phone calls to Berlin for the next hour, arrested the mayor and the treasurer for "suspicions of crooked bookkeeping" and confiscated the entire city treasury. The closest thing to "checking his credentials" was him giving a receipt for the confiscated treasury, using a fake name. Then he simply walked away, and was arrested 13 days later only because a former cell mate whom he told about his plans told this to the police. He was later pardoned by Kaiser Wilhelm II, who found it Actually Pretty Funny. There is at least one play and three movies made about this.
Similarly, one man managed to convince at least one person to perform a rectal exam this way. Keeping a straight face must have been torture for everyone with a sense of humor.
In 1948, a Japanese male in uniform entered the Teikoku Imperial Bank and, using this trope, managed to get the entire bank staff to swallow poison. In unison. Detailed in the book Flowering of the Bamboo by William Triplett.
To go into more detail: The stunt was approved by The ABC's lawyers because they assumed the fake motorcade would be stopped and turn around at the first checkpoint; none of the team could believe they got as far as they got. They had fake security passes that said "joke", "Insecurity" and "It's pretty obvious this isn't a real pass" and got within metres of the hotel where George W. Bush was staying. They were only caught when, realising they were not going to be stopped by the police, they tried to turn around, and Chas got out of the car dressed as Osama bin Laden. And even then, they left Chas alone for a while and instead converged to arrest the one not dressed as bin Laden, as lampshaded by The Chaser themselves.
The bigger the lie, the easier it is to believe; Julian Morrow had done a number of pranks on a smaller scale and often managed to fool members of the public, but never the employees of whichever establishment or organisation he claimed to work for.
On 2 July 2000, 15 men dressed in senior officers' uniforms, driving civilian jeeps painted up to look like military vehicles, entered a Malaysian army base using this method. They apparently convinced the base armoury personnel to hand over more than 100 assault rifles and grenade launchers to them, and left before anyone realized something was wrong. See BBC News.
Convicted hacker Kevin Mitnick used this as his primary criminal method. Among hackers and computer security professionals, this is called social engineering.
"I once had a fellow network geek challenge me to try to bring down his newly installed network. He had just installed a powerful and expensive firewall router and was convinced that I couldn't get to a test server he added to his network just for me to try to access. After a few attempts to hack in over the Internet, I saw that I wasn't going to get anywhere that way. So I jumped in my car and drove to his office, having first outfitted myself in a techy-looking jumpsuit and an ancient ID badge I just happened to have in my sock drawer. I smiled sweetly at the receptionist and walked right by my friend's office (I noticed he was smugly monitoring incoming IP traffic using some neato packet-sniffing program) to his new server. I quickly pulled the wires out of the back of his precious server, picked it up, and walked out the door. The receptionist was too busy trying to figure out why her e-mail wasn't working to notice me as I whisked by her carrying the 65-pound server box." — From the CompTIA A+ Certification All-in-One Exam Guide by Michael Meyers.
Mexicans may remember this one very well, a person impersonating Sven-Göran Eriksson fooled each and every soccer manager, players and press he crossed and nobody knew until they were told. Here have a link
Parodied by Ant and Dec in the video to their novelty World Cup tie-in single.
Scott Adams said that he'd tell women he was interested in that he was an expert on handwriting analysis. He'd get them to write their name and ask them to write the things they liked about him. Once they were in the mindset of thinking appreciative things about him, some would include a phone number.
Not the only time Adams has taken advantage of this tendency, either. Wearing only a toupee and a fake mustache as a disguise and peddled as a consultant by Logitech's co-founder, he got into a high-level meeting at the company and spouted a wide load of nonsense. Everyone nodded along and he succeeded in getting them to create a completely meaningless mission statement before the hoax was revealed.
Once he did this entirely involuntarily; he had to fill out some paperwork at the company he used to work for, and sat at his old desk to do so. Someone rushed in, dropped paperwork on the desk, said they needed it by five, and left.
Phishing. By far the biggest reason why any online service tells you that representatives will never ask for your password.
Working at a call-in help desk, you have to actively dissuade people from giving you everything from their password to their SSN. Telling them that you don't ask for security reasons only encourages them to offer it.
Taxi dispatch works much the same way. One will often have to stop people mid-credit-card-number to tell them that looking up a taxicab doesn't work that way and that even if it did, the dispatcher can't access that information, please do not give it to them!
Dave Barry and a few cartoonists once got into the 2000 Democratic National Convention by dressing up in dark suits with sunglasses, and sticking phone cords in their ears to pretend they were the security detail for Richard Riordan, then-mayor of Los Angeles. (The mayor was in on it, but the convention's security detail and doormen were not.)
The story of Pacific Tech's Graphing Calculator, in which a couple of ex-contractors managed to get Apple to release their software by pretending they still worked there. One of the best examples from the article: "[Greg] told his manager that he would start reporting to me. She didn't ask who I was and let him keep his office and badge. In turn, I told people that I was reporting to him. Since that left no managers in the loop, we had no meetings and could be extremely productive."
Many of Joey Skaggs' greatest pranks are predicated on the Bavarian Fire Drill. The best of these was The Solomon Project, where Skaggs (as Dr. Joseph Bonuso) got on CNN to shill a computer that could replace judges. Even better, though, was the fact that this was the fifth time Skaggs had snowed CNN this way.
A somewhat famous theft from the Hudson's Bay Company building in downtown Winnipeg involved two people walking in, taking a canoe, putting it over their heads as though they were simply moving the display, and walking straight out the door with it, never to be seen again.
For that matter, a common burglary tactic is to dress up as employees of a moving company or simply have a logo-ed van, and do the job in broad daylight.
There was an instance where a group was able to steal the money from an ATM sitting in a fast food location. While it would take hours of work to break open the ATM, they simply walked in wearing unmarked blue coveralls, unplugged the ATM, and wheeled it out on a dolly to open at their leisure later. No one stopped them or were able to give a good description.
A German newsmagazine tested this with an actor. He would stop cars while talking into a normal cellphone and claim to be a police officer, needing the car for an ongoing chase, as his partner is already pursuing the criminal with their patrol car. Even more disturbing than the number of people immediately giving their keys were the ones handing over the car after checking the ID. It was a cheap plastic card, the picture badly glued on it, and the word "Police" misspelled.
In the British version of Candid Camera the crew once successfully (pretended to have) closed an entire county, only allowing vehicles in as others came out.
Way, way too many cases of people hijacking a helicopter and simply flying into the prison yard to pick up allies. So many guards assume the helicopter is there officially.
Zug.com's self-described "Most ambitious prank in history" where the site's owners broke into the Super Bowl, conned security — including a Federal agent — into believing they were there on official business from PepsiCo and placed an advertisement for their website into the middle of Prince's halftime show.
It gets even better. They conned one whole side of the audience into doing it for them!
According to many anecdotes, it was possible before around 1960 to gain a professorship at Harvard, simply by finding an empty office, showing up at faculty meetings, and acting like you know what you're talking about. Discworld makes reference to this a few times when mentioning professors of the Unseen University.
Steven Spielberg must like this trope, as he used to spread "highly embellished" stories about how he'd gotten his start in Hollywood by walking onto the Universal Studios lot wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase, acting like he was supposed to be there. In some versions he set up shop in an empty office, put his name on the building directory, told the switchboard operator to give out his extension to people, and wasn't discovered for two years.
Quite creepy considering that Obama is getting three times more assassination threats than George W. Bush.
While researching for his film In the Loop, director Armando Iannucci crashed the U.S. State Department offices by showing the guard a fake BBC press pass and saying "I'm here for the 12:30." He then walked around taking photos for the set designers.
This clip is a recording of people's responses to a... slightly baited question that relied on two facts: "Obama" and "Osama" sound a lot alike, and people are idiots. It wouldn't have worked today, of course, since the former is much less obscure.
Jack Churchill. Using nothing more than this trope and a bigass sword captured 42 men.
"I maintain that, as long as you tell a German loudly and clearly what to do, if you are senior to him he will cry 'Jawohl!' and get on with it enthusiastically and efficiently whatever the situation." -Jack Churchill
Sergeant Bill came to Gerald, MO, to arrest meth dealers. He had made a bunch of arrests over a two month period. The problem was that he was a security guard with no authority to arrest anybody. His claim to be involved with a "Multi-jurisdictional Narcotics Task Force" was lifted from Beverly Hills Cop II.
A young woman once walked into the White House and asked to see John F. Kennedy. Since Kennedy had so many girlfriends, nobody even thought to check her for weapons until she was only a few rooms away from him. She had a knife in her purse.
In Japan, 1968, a man dressed as a police officer stopped an armored car transporting money belonging to the Toshiba corporation. With a story about a bomb threat regarding the car, he convinced the employees to allow him to search it for explosives. He set off a road flare under the car, and the employees all ran for cover, believing it was a bomb. The man then boarded the car and drove away. He was never caught, nor was the money (about 300 million yen) ever recovered.
An old Urban Legend has a guard at a salt quarry check for mining equipment possibly being smuggled out in salt shipments. One particularly skeezy guy was checked every day for 30 years. The guard and the guy built up a rapport, and on the guard's final day he asked the guy what he was smuggling out, because he knew he had to be. The guy coolly replied, "salt".
Another variation involves a man taking out a bunch of product in a wheelbarrow for years, only for the guards to determine that everything he had was surplus junk he was welcome to take. He was, of course, stealing wheelbarrows.
Yet another variation describes a little boy carrying bags of sand over the US-Mexico border every day on a bicycle, then walking back every night. The customs officials naturally checked the bags of sand, and the boy made a killing off of the bikes.
A (likely apocryphal) version of this story made it into Doonesbury, from Desert Storm. It involved MPs thoroughly searching a tank to make sure the US crew wasn't smuggling loot or mementos out of Iraq. The police gave the tankers the all-clear, certifying there was nothing illegal in the tank - which was actually a Republican Guard T-72.
This story may be very old indeed. A variation is also told of the Mullah Nasruddin—the Sufi Muslimtrickster, who goes by the name Juha in Arab countries—involving donkeys carrying loads of hay across a border. Every day Nasruddin cheerfully admits to the border guard that he is "smuggling," but refuses to elaborate. The border guard never finds anything hidden in the hay. Years later, when both of them are retired, Nasruddin confesses to the guard that he was, of course, smuggling donkeys.
In the beginning of 1941, iron junk was constantly delivered from Germany to the Soviet Union. The customs only paid attention to the metal, while in reality, the Soviets wanted the oiled rag it was wrapped in - formerly used to clean German weapons (they wanted to know whether the Reich is switching to oil that can hold in the Russian winter).
Referenced in Crocodile Dundee In Los Angeles, when Dundee suspects that the film "Lethal Agent", being filmed at that time, is a cover-up for a smuggling operation. He has the frames of the painting used in the film as props tested for drugs, and when the tests come back negative, mentions this tale. In the end, he's right - the paintings themselves are being smuggled.
Another variation has a West German man going from West Germany to East Germany every day on his bicycle. The guard dismantled his bike every day for decades, and, of course, found nothing. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the man and the guard met up in a coffee house and decided to have a drink. The guard asked the man what he was smuggling, and the man replied, "Bicycles."
This even pops up in a Star WarsExpanded Universe with one bit on Han Solo in his smuggling days. He keeps taking ships past Imperial customs inspectors sure he's up to no good, though unable to find any contraband. Finally it dawns on them he's smuggling ships, but by then it's too late.
Aaaand in movies. In Contraband the corrupt ship's captain searches the van Mark Wahlberg and his crew were using to transport forged banknotes and is ticked that all he finds is a used painter's dropcloth. The dropcloth is actually a Jackson Pollock painting the crew stole from a drug lord and is worth millions.
Comedian Howie Mandel was expelled from his high school for impersonating a member of the school board, getting a construction company to make some additions at his school.
In George Carlin's Class Clown routine, he described how he could mimic the priests of his Catholic school, doing one so well that he always wanted to sneak into the confessional booth before he got there and hear a few confessions, because he knew that "if anyone really thought I was Father Byrne and really wanted to be forgiven...and performed the penance I had prescribed...they would've been forgiven!"
Do not try this at home, though, as impersonating a priest is a sin that incurs automatic excommunication.
In October 2010, a dam in Hungary burst, spilling red toxic sludge across the countryside and laying waste to a village. One man whose house was spared, happened to own a Ford Transit fire truck, which he loaded up with food and water to help the victims. He commented that getting through the check points was easy because the authorities assumed he was with the fire department.
Of course, if you're trying to perform traffic control in the aftermath of a major environmental disaster and some guy shows up with a vanload of much-needed emergency supplies, are you going to ask very many questions?
According to Banksy, the best way to make illegal street art is to go out in broad daylight wearing a day-glo vest, listening to a small transistor radio, and act like you're supposed to be there. If anyone bothers you, just mutter something about how you aren't paid enough to put up with it.
Wonderfully lampshaded by Tom Paxton in his song "I don't want a Bunny Wunny" in which he asks the audience to sing along, then to do it by themselves. With excellent timing he says "Isn't it amazing what people will do if you just ask them to? Now go and invade Poland!"
In 1942, Kazimierz Piechowski and 3 others inmates escaped Auschwitz by managing to steal SS uniformsand Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss's own staff car and driving towards the main gate. When they reached the gate, they became worried when it didn't open. Piechowski leaned out of the car far enough for the guards to see his rank insignia and began yelling at them to open the gate. The guards obeyed and the 4 men simply drove away.
There is a story about Steve Jobs dropping out of Reed College after one semester. He continued to stay on campus, sleeping on his friend's floor, eating other students' leftovers (an institution at Reed dubbed "The Scrounge"), and auditing classes. However, it's highly likely that everyone knew what he was doing and no one cared.
Reed's close cousin Evergreen is well known amongst students and alumni for being lax about non-students being on campus as well. Through the late 1990's at least, a new, unregistered, or just plain bizarre student (chicken suit, real life Strawberry Shortcake, army uniform) could easily walk into many classrooms, sit down and look like they belonged there, and many professors - if they even noticed - didn't bat an eye and went right on teaching. Sometimes for weeks. Whether this was because they thought the student really did belong there, or because they just didn't bother kicking them out or questioning them, is up for debate. Many dorms and other campus institutions had similar policies whereby a non-student could just walk in, give someone a line about forgetting their ID card, and get a free meal by looking like they belonged there. Possibly a campus-level case of Weirdness Censor or even a miniature City of Weirdos.
Even at more buttoned-down institutions, most lectures work this way; so long as you're not disruptive, nobody would even notice if you're enrolled or not. You could easily accumulate much of a college education by just showing up to lectures, doing required readings, and asking questions of the professors, many of whom do not know their students' names. You would not, of course, be able to get any feedback on assignments, or more importantly, any credits toward a degree.
This is apparently something the singer Ke$ha made a habit of, simply walking into classrooms, listening (and participating) in lectures, and no one was the wiser.
According to the article "The Nonstudent Left" (collected in The Great Shark Hunt), Hunter S. Thompson spent several years attending Columbia University in this manner. The focus of the article as a whole is the influence of unenrolled students on the anti-authoritarian movements that sprung up on many college campuses during the sixties.
There is an apocryphalstory that goes something like this; there was a toll parking booth outside a city zoo, where a nice old man worked tirelessly for years. One day he stopped showing up for work, so the zoo informed the city council that they needed a new operative. The city council replied that they had assumed that he worked for the zoo. It was estimated that the man made off with at least several million.
A reporter used this technique to get into the Bohemian Club. Reports of tight security turned out to be heavily exaggerated as simply by wearing a business suit he was not only able to get in but ignore the only apparent security measure (a rule that everyone has to sign their name at the registry) without ever being questioned.
The pacifist Bloomsbury Group including writer-to-be Virginia Woolf famously disguised themselves as Abyssinian princes and "inspected" the flagship of the Royal Navy, HMS Dreadnought.
One man found he could get into any club without standing in line or paying cover charge by claiming he was a DJ. Unfortunately, it didn't work so well on the bus.
In 2004, Yale students managed to convince Harvard to spell out "We Suck" with cards during the middle of the Harvard-Yale game.
And in 2013, Harvard students pranked them back by giving mocking tours of Yale to completely unfazed tourists, simply by showing up in Yale paraphernalia and pretending to be an official student organization.
Rearranging the orange cones in a parking lot into maze like structures and watching frustrated drivers reactions is not funny whatsoever.
An entire mall parking garage in the Danish town Hillerød was "shut down" for several hours, because a bunch of drunken teens had "blocked" every single entrance with that kind of cones during the night. The story goes that it took several hours with pissed off drivers in a queue, before someone cleared up the mess.
It is possible for common people to pose as certain companies to supply a DMCA takedown for certain videos. This has happened with Nyan Cat (After which the real Prguitarman stated he was not responsible for the takedown) and several videos from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic sufferent takedowns from Habsro Inc. This, and other cases, have been used as examples of the YouTube being too "cowardly" or some other adjective to check the claims for legitimacy. Checking the claims one by one would cost a good deal of time and money.
In March 1986 eleven students from Harvey Mudd College showed up on Caltech campus and left with a century-old, 1.7 ton cannon. In broad daylight. They posed as construction crew and gave multiple different stories to people who asked, but the real trick was planting people whose job was to look like normal students who didn't think anything was wrong. Twenty years later MIT repeated the trick by posing as Howe & Ser Moving Company.
There was a warning that there was a gang operating at Gatwick Airport. Wearing hi-viz jackets, they would approach people parking cars in the "car hire return" car park, inspect the cars, hand over a receipt, and ... calmly drive away, since they had nothing whatsoever to do with the hire car companies involved.
In his first book, Up Front, Bill Mauldin tells the story of an expatriate Austrian nobleman serving in the US Army who would sneak into blacked-out German command bunkers at night, and in his well-educated accent, in his most arrogant tone of voice, demand to know the situation and plans.
Filming Romanoff and Juliet in Rome during the 1960 Olympics, Peter Ustinov would bluff his and other company members' way into the Games by arriving in the Rolls Royce flying the flag of the fictitious country in the film, fitted with fake diplomatic plates.
This probably has something to do with the saying "confidence is your most attractive asset" or something along those lines when trying to get your love interest to notice you.
Claude François de Malet nearly took over the First French Empire this way: while Napoleon was in Russia Malet, a former general discharged and placed in a sanitarium for sedition, walked to the commander of a National Guard cohort in Paris, told him that Napoleon had died in battle on October 7, and, using forged documents, took command of the cohort and started arresting the government. Of all the people he arrested (which included the Minister of Police himself), only general Pierre Hulin thought about checking his orders (he got shot in the jaw), and the coup was stopped only after colonel Doucet, who knew for a fact that Napoleon was still alive after October 7 and recognized Malet, managed to get alone with him, and kicked his ass and tied him up before ordering his troops back to their barracks. When informed of the attempted coup Napoleon had only one question: why did nobody thought of shouting "The emperor is dead, long live the emperor!" (i.e., his son Napoleon II)?
This is the whole basis of Durwood Fincher's shtick. He goes up to famous celebrities and athletes, or just average people on the street at major events, and pretends to be a reporter wanting to give them an interview. They comply and listen to his questions — only for him to spout off completely nonsensical gibberish. The interviewees are so convinced of his legitimacy (or at least too polite to verbally ponder otherwise) that they always give answers to whatever question they think he's asking.
A significant minority of retail shoppers are apparently unable to tell whether or not a given person within a supermarket-type store is, or is not, an employee of said store. Even when the store has a very distinctive and visible uniform. Even when the alleged employee is pushing a trolley containing a large quantity of assorted goods and an infant in the baby-seat, and has additional young children clinging to each leg. The trope is invoked because being mistaken for an employee seems to happen more often to people who are, in fact, employees in other retail establishments, suggesting that the "aura of competence" that these people project is what the offending shoppers pick up on.
In February 2011, someone calling himself "Paz" went straight into Paris Hilton's Birthday party, using a red wristband with the letter "P" on it. He got drunk, took pictures and eventually walked out with her birthday cake pretending to be part of the catering personell. The cake was donated to a homeless shelter a few days later.
This often happens with unscrupulous customers trying to get preferential treatment, or even free merchandise, by posing as the owner or a close friend or relative. As Not Always Right shows us, this can easily fail if the employee is simply on his/her toes, or just happens to be the person they're claiming (or a close relative).
Some particularly evil malware programs will claim to be legitimate security software. For example, rootkits and viruses posing as antiviruses. At least one Not Always Right story has the customer paying for an antivirus service that is actually a virus in disguise, and adamant that the computer tech they're consulting about it is just lying that it's a fake antivirus program in order to sell them something (like, you know, a reall antivirus program).
There's an internet video of someone waking up an apparently drunk guy, putting a banana in his mouth, & handing him a pillow & bedding while telling him to go in an urgent voice & gently pushing him into a closet. The guy goes into the closet willingly. When he hears people laughing he comes out & immediately goes back to sleep.
At one point, two men walked into the Macy's in NYC and brought a canoe all the way down to their car from the floor it was on without anyone suspecting that it hadn't been paid for. It wasn't until they went back for the paddles that they were caught.
Private Eye's owner and longtime editor Peter Cook was a master of this trope. His finest hour was leading a raid on the Mirror offices at a time when Maxwell had tried to force the magazine off the newsstands (and succeeded with WH Smith, a large British newsagents chain). He and some cohorts, including current editor Ian Hislop, convinced the doorman and security at the Mirror offices that they were there to see Robert Maxwell. They used this to vandalize Maxwell's office, steal the master copy of a planned spoof Not Private Eye smear-job piece Maxwell had been producing (they had previously sent the journalists involved with the project a case of whisky, with predictable results), order a champagne lunch to be delivered at Maxwell's expense, and, finally, very drunk, phoning Maxwell personally in New York and saying "guess where we are".
Put on a black t-shirt that says 'Event Staff'. Wear dark cargo pants or khakis depending on preference. Proceed to get into far more private events and off-limits areas than you should be able to.
More than one commander in the Napoleonic Wars was fooled into abandoning vital positions or letting an enemy army slip away because someone from the other side told them that there was an armistice. One notable example is found in the 1805 campaign, when Marshals Lannes and Murat took a crucial bridge (which was both heavily guarded and stuffed full of explosives) near Vienna by just crossing it on foot, in their dazzling full dress uniforms, telling the Austrians that an armistice had just been signed and the bridge was now supposed to be handed to the French. When one sensible NCO wanted to light the fuses anyway because there was no way these two Frenchmen were telling the truth, Lannes and Murat proceeded to humiliate all the Austrian officers present by asking if a mere NCO could now countermand a general's orders. The Austrian general in charge of the bridge was arrested and imprisoned for gross incompetence, but perhaps he felt vindicated knowing that Murat fell for the exact same trick a few months later, courtesy of the Russians.