A bunch of empty offices made up to look like a real life setting, say a bookmaker's or production office. Commonly used by a Con Man
Expect the place to be completely abandoned
by the time the authorities show up in force.
- The Sting uses this exact term to describe what they need to rent, and later pay for: an empty basement office/store in order to convert it into a betting parlor.
- The protagonists of Accepted use this technique to create a stand-in fictional college to fool their parents. However, before long Hilarity Ensues.
- Subverted in The Game starring Michael Douglas. Our hero does convince the cops to come back to the Big Bad's main HQ but it is empty. Turns out the company owns the entire building so it was no trouble faking a few empty floors.
- In Sneakers, the Big Bad picked an office building that was abandoned because it was due for demolition in a few days. By the time our heroes returned, all the evidence was rubble.
- In The Grifters, a con-woman tells of a big con which involved convincing the mark that banks of huge computers were in the next (empty) rooms. Despite the risk her confederate kept asking the mark to go see them, while the woman laughed and said he didn't have to go.
- Such offices are used several times for various purposes in the Burke series by Andrew Vachss.
- In The Little Golden Calf,
- Ostap opens one of those, as a firm that supposedly buys horns and hooves to make combs. (It is in fact a front for his investigations into the the illegal fortune of the Secretly Wealthy antagonist.) Since then, "Horns and Hooves" became a Russian idiom for any suspicious office that's likely to vanish when things will go sour.
- Subverted: when Ostap's scheme fails and the firm is busted, the Soviet government nationalizes it and builds a real office that really trades in horns and hooves.
- The third Heist Society novel has one; it is even specifically called this trope.
- The thriller The Day Before Midnight has the wife of a former defense contractor revealing she gave information on an American base but did it for the Israelis, their allies. She talks about going to the Israeli embassy, packed with workers, flags, portraits of famous Israeli politicans and more. When she mentions the address, an FBI agent asks to repeat it and whens he does, he reveals that he used to work by the Israeli embassy and it's on the other side of New York. He openly states all someone had to do was "rent out an empty brownstone, hang some flags and photos, get people to walk around and look busy. An hour after you've left, the whole place is cleaned out." The woman realizes she gave the information on a missile base to a band of terrorists leading to a My God, What Have I Done? reaction.
- Everybody Loves Raymond: Robert was fooled with this con.
- Hustle used this in almost every episode.
- Mission: Impossible put this one to work a lot. To pick but one example, "The Execution" has an unused warehouse turned into a death row prison block and gas chamber.
- Alias Smith and Jones did a Big Store con in detail (to a mark who richly deserved it) in the episode "The Great Shell Game".
- Burn Notice subverted this: after convincing the mark that a closed up church-room was being used by a group of assassins out for the mark's blood, they then had a problem when the mark took his brother back there. So they turned it into a church and put on a show to convince the brother that the mark was crazy.
- Played straight when Michael realized the office manager he had spoken with earlier was Carla, the handler he'd been trying to locate. On returning to the office he finds it empty except for a small gift and bundle of balloons, congratulating him on figuring it out.
- On CSI: Miami, a corpse goes missing and Natalie checks out a Biotech company that was cited as taking the body. A woman comes out in a hat, claiming the offices are mostly empty as everyone is in the back celebrating a coworker's birthday. Later, Natalie returns with Horatio to discover an empty building with just the woman's party hat in the trash. This soon leads to the discovery that the "murder" was part of a complicated live action roleplaying game that's gotten out of hand.
- Used straight by MacGyver.
- In one episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia Charlie is convinced the company he and Mac get jobs at is one of these. Turns out, no, it's a legitimate company, Charlie's just gone insane from stress.
- On Psych, Shawn is happy when he's chosen to be part of a "think tank" set up by a millionaire to find ways to kill him for security reasons. Shawn brags about it to Lassiter, who's at first upset he wasn't picked but then confused as he's never heard of the guy Shawn says is in charge of the millionaire's security. Shawn then sees footage of the millionaire on TV but with longer hair then the "live video" he was addressing the think tank on. Shawn leads the cops to the meeting room, Lassiter grousing when he sees the electronic keypad and fingerprint scanner on the door. Shawn, realizing what's happening, yanks the "lock" off, revealing it's just a box with lights. He easily opens the door to show the "command center" has been totally cleaned out and too late figures out the "security chief" is the killer and Shawn has just given him the perfect plan.
- Leverage has used this a few times, but not as often as you'd expect for a show about con artists. The showrunner says in the DVD commentary that this trope's become so ubiquitous in con-artist stories that he avoided it as much as possible.
- The pilot, for instance, is actually a subversion: the mark realizes he's being had and calls the cops on the fake business, but it turns out that they're genuine and also that the team has got them thinking that he's pulling something on them: all part of the plan.
- In "The Boiler Room Job," the mark is an experienced con artist himself and laughs at the team's attempt to make him think he's in a busy stock office ("my grandfather invented that con!") As it turns out, the team knew he would see through it and used it as a distraction while they stole his money out from under him. Also, all the "workers" just happen to be the man's past victims who he honestly didn't recognize.
- Inverted in one episode where the team makes a legit business look fake as bait for a mark looking for a way to launder money. They get a small gym cleared out during peak hours (except for one intense woman who keeps up with Parker on the exercise bike) so it looks like an operation set up to cover "fake" membership dues as a laundering set-up with no real costumers (for an added twist, the list of fake members is just the names of all the people the mark had stolen money from, he doesn't even recognize their names).
- Played mostly straight in "The Boost Job." The team sets up fake business in a real car dealership by sending the actual owners on a ten-day trip to Hawaii; the episode glosses over what will become of the car sales they make at drastically reduced prices to real customers in the process of faking out their mark. (Since the mark was driving the other dealership out of business with his crooked sales practices, they presumably end up better off in the long run regardless.)
- A Monster of the Week in Criminal Minds who was killing people based on their fear operated his practice out of an abandoned office building his wife's family owned. To make it look more real, he put other fake businesses on the entry hall board.
- Sneaky Pete: In Marius's backstory, he rented a place and used it to set up a fake casino for a gambling con to trick Vince. It didn't work, Vince wanted his money back, and thus we have the series.
- In Liberal Crime Squad, you can purchase a Business Front upgrade for the abandoned warehouses and the crack house you can seize as safehouses. Their purpose is to hide the heat your Liberals have acquired, therefore making it harder for the law enforcement to track them.
- A shady organization on Batman Beyond had a building made up to look like a school for gifted children, as a cover for abductions: on closer inspection, rows of computer terminals were empty monitor casings, most floors had never even been used, etc.
- One episode of All Grown Up! had Suzie go to a building where an apparent talent agent had told her to be after giving her 1,000 dollars. Turns out the woman's a con artist that swindled her, and the building hasn't been used in years. Suzie is understandably upset about this.