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.
Compare The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday
- The Sting's betting parlour. You cannot talk about The Con without talking about The Sting.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Leverage has used this a few times. The pilot is one example, and "The Boost Job" is another. But not as often as you'd expect for a show about con artists.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.