A type of con where the giant monster attacking local villages ultimately turns out to be the property (or at least in the employ) of the very same hunters who conveniently showed up to exterminate it (for a nominal reward).
Before the culprit's racket is revealed, it seems like there's going to be an Always Someone Better plot. If the scammer is the protagonist, he will soon have to face the real thing and become a true hero. Either way, it's a common karmic punishment for this character to encounter the real thing, sometimes thinking it's his own hoax used against him. The real thing is usually none too impressed with the imposter, and doesn't hesitate to show him what it's really capable of.
In Super Hero stories, leaving aside conventional crimes, nothing will disgust the members of a superhero team/community more than catching one of their own pulling this scam. Someone would likely say "You mean you endangered innocent people for a self-aggrandizing publicity stunt?!" just before they dropkick the offender out of their organization.
Subtrope of Engineered Heroics.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
In Claymore, villages that don't pay out after Claymores kill their yoma infestations are coincidentally overrun by yoma shortly thereafter. Huh. Yes, the Organization did create the yoma in the first place, and the payouts are just a side benefit to their real goal of creating and testing living weapons. The Claymores are innocent of this, but some start wising up later on in the manga.
An example without monsters: in an episode of Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu, the martial arts club has 3 of their members pretend to be thugs and the other defeat them to impress girls. It works rather well... until the girls all meet and compare notes.
The debut of Tien and Chiaotzu in the Dragon Ballanime has them freeing some villages from a boar monster that they own, until Goku finds out and stops them.
A variation of this is the bulk of the short manga Monsters by Eiichiro Oda (author of One Piece), where the villains uses a magical horn to summon a giant dragon to raze the cities (so that they can pillage them). The hero Ryuuma manages to slay said dragon with a single slash.
Early on in InuYasha, Miroku and Hachiemon the tanuki do this, with Hachiemon using his Shapeshifting abilities to become the "monster".
In Tiger & Bunny Maverick hires criminals for the heroes to catch.
El Hombre attempts this in the Astro City arc "The Tarnished Angel". As part of his backstory, he hired one of his foes to create a giant robot to go on a rampage that he would then stop and restore his falling fame. The foe double-crossed him and did not include the agreed upon off-switch, forcing other superheroes to come in and stop the menace for real as well as expose El Hombre's scam. (This is almost certainly a homage to the Hank Pym story described above.) Years later, he adopted a new identity to recruit a supervillain army, whom he later intended to kill in a Crowning Moment Of Awesome to establish a new superhero identity.
Used in Jeff Smith's Bone series. One of the characters starts stirring up rumors about dragons in the region, and gets an entire town to give him their gold and treasure as "bait" so that he can "trap" a dragon. His actual plan is to get as much gold as he can, then skip town when people get too suspicious. It blows up in his face when an actual dragon the characters met before intentionally jumps into the trap and refuses to escape.
The fame obsessed Booster Gold pulls a version of this in 52, hiring an actor to play a supervillain so he can save the day (and upstage a popular new hero who's getting all "his" good press, Supernova). He gets busted for it, naturally. This is actually a subversion as it was part of a Batman Gambit to get the villain to underestimate him. And Supernova is actually Booster Gold himself.
He gained a rep for this from his time with the JLI and Conglomorate (see below)
A Golden AgeBatman story had an ex-gangster using his underworld contacts to track down wanted criminals so he could capture them and turn them in for the reward. When he ran out of wanted criminals, he started busting crooks out of prison so he could capture them and turn them in.
Max Lord, when he was running Justice League International, and his ex-wife Clare Montgomary of the Conglomorate, both have a habit of faking or hiring villains to make "their guys" look good (and in Claire's case because her corporate sponsers don't want the team fighting real villains without their control). In a variation, the teams themselves don't (usually) realise this, and think they're genuinely fighting the villains.
In the comic strip SnarfQuest, Willie the dragon (who thinks he's a duck) is suckered into playing the role of the monster in one of these.
In the first volume of DC Comics's Scooby-Doo, this happens in two stories:
The gang exposes the first racket when Scooby-Doo smells snacks in the fake monster's pouch.
The gang scares the person behind the second racket by disguising themselves as ghost and allowing the racket's victim to beat them off.
The main human character in Dragonheart pulls this on a few towns with the help of the dragon he befriended. Dragon flies over, sets fire to a few thatched-roof cottages, and scares some livestock. Hero shows up with a gigantic ballista and downs the dragon in a bolt, where it splashes down in a lake (in fact having caught the bolt safely under one arm, and escaped under the cover of water). This eventually backfires (hilariously) when the dragon lands in a lake that's too shallow for him to submerge in: The starving villagers rush the dragon while chanting "meat!", but after the dragon escapes (betraying the ruse) the villagers turn on the protagonists and start chanting "meat"...
Interesting point with this one is that the protagonist here actually was the real thing. The only reason he and the dragon started this little racket was because he had run out of dragons to kill; the one he's working with is the last, and by working together in this way the hunter gets to keep his job and the dragon gets to live.
In Peter Jackson's The Frighteners, Michael J. Fox's character makes a living by having his ghost friends "haunt" houses before arriving to "exorcise" them.
The Ghostbusters had to face accusations of this, in the movies at least. Venkman actually does pretend to detect paranormal activity in Dana's apartment, although he's faking it to get into her pants rather than her wallet.
This is the profession that The Brothers Grimm are in before they encounter real supernatural entities.
The entirety of the Star Wars prequels, and therefore the backdrop to all Prequel-era Expanded Universe works as well. Then-Chancellor Palpatine secretly funds and directs the Confederacy only to justify turning the Republic into the Empire and so he can frame the Jedi. A rare case where the plan goes off without a hitch, with the Confederacy being destroyed only after Palpatine becomes Emperor.
The Beast of Gévaudan in Brotherhood of the Wolf. The members of the brotherhood (who control the Beast) are all local aristocrats. The gypsies that were hired to "hunt down" the Beast work for them and like attending gruesome pit fights involving the Beast.
In the film Thor, this is an aspect of Loki's scheme. He sets up a Frost Giant assassination attempt against Odin, foiling it himself in order for an excuse to destroy Jotunheim and win his father's approval.
In the first of The Saga of the Noble Dead series, the protagonists fake vampire attacks for a living and pretend to slay them. Then they encounter real vampires.
Most fiction parodying/deconstructing The Pied Piper of Hamelin.
This is a regular con that the Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents pull: rats show up and mess with things in incredibly visible ways. Town hires a piper, who is usually some kid and his pet cat (legitimate pipers are hideously expensive and prissy). Kid leads out all the rats in showy fashion. Kid gets paid. Kid leaves town and meets up with rats to count up and split the profits. (The meeting up with the real thing is also played straight, in fact, it is the main plot of the book.)
It was revealed that the real pipers pull a version of this: they started the stories about horrible retributions for not paying them. It also points out the plot hole in the original: rats can swim, and will work their way back to provide future employment.
Earlier in the Discworld series, the human villain of Guards! Guards!! had tried to use a one-shot version of this scheme to get a (figurehead) king installed as the ruler of Ankh-Morpork. It backfired, because the dragon he summoned as part of the plan turned out to have ambitions of its own....
At another point in the Discworld series, there's an anecdote about people attempting the "pest" version of this when Ankh-Morpork was in the throes of a rat infestation and people were being paid per rat. Lord Vetinari was asked what should be done, and replied simply "Tax the rat farms."
The well-known Japanese story Naita Akaoni — which roughly translates to "Crying Red Oni" or "Tears of the Red Oni" and is referenced in, among other things, Tokyo Godfathers and Keroro Gunsou — features a Blue Oni that comes up with this scheme and acts as the monster in it, so his friend the Red Oni can befriend humans. In the Bittersweet Ending, Blue Oni has to leave forever to keep up the ruse.
A particularly elaborate and convoluted example occurs in the Doc Savage novel Terror in the Navy.
Live Action TV
Parodied on Late Night With Conan O'Brien, where a dog is shown to have a hero complex and creates situations to save people from. After being reprimanded by Conan, the dog looks shameful, but oh so cute...
Non-monster example: Big Wolf on Campus featured a Fake Ultimate Hero, Stormfront, who pulled this sort of scam by secretly engineering disasters, then showing up to stop them. For instance, pushing a baby carriage into traffic with a gust of wind, then rushing in and saving the baby.
Stargate Atlantis: Lucius Lavin did it in his second appearance, hiring former Genii soldiers to "attack" the town he was protecting. It went From Bad to Worse when he started to haggle after they had fulfilled their part of the contract...
Keeping Up Appearances: Hyacinth tries this on a golf course, with brother in law Onslow as the monster, ice cream executives as the audience, and her husband, Richard, as the ace. It doesn't work, because Coitus Ensuesin the wrong place between Onslow and Daisy, and when the real threat shows up, Hyacinth herself performs much better as the ace. Hyacinth gets the job offer that she wanted Richard to have.
Covertly introducing termites, rodents, or other vermin to a building, then "conveniently" showing up to provide fumigation services, is an old scam used by thieves to gain access to homes or other properties.
Also real-life dhampir professed to be half-vampire, were typically at least half-gypsy, and hunted vampires for money, food, goods, and any and all favors that a vulnerable community could provide. And the myth that only a dhampir can see an invisible vampire seems to be invented specifically for this sort of scam...
Some malware will pretend to be an anti-malware program and alert the user that the computer is infected with tons of viruses. Then they'll charge money to make the "viruses" go away while providing no actual protection to the computer. They can usually be detected by being massively more obnoxious than any legitimate defensive program.
In British India in the 1800s, an example quite similar to the Discworld "Tax the rat farms" above, people started breeding snakes in captivity to collect a lucrative bounty on snakes, including cobras. Poor containment and the fact that the snakes were let go or the people moved on once the bounties weren't paid meant that the program actually increased the population of snakes.
The Ravenloft supplement Van Richten's Arsenal mentions the existence of charlatan "monster hunters" who prey on villagers' fears, faking signs of a werebeast or similar menace in the area, then showing up to "heroically" defend them. Often, their "proof" of victory consists of displaying the head of a dead (mundane) wolf or other predator they've killed as a scapegoat.
A Dragon Magazine "Dragon Project" article (unusual dragons for games other than D&D; in this case GURPS) describes Dexter and Cornelius, a conman who works with a naive dragon. Cornelius "threatens" a village, and Dexter arrives to "save" it.
Sin-eaters are known to do this in White Wolf's Geist The Sin Eaters, where they use their status as The Necromancer to cause ghosts to haunt people, and then charge them money to get rid of the hauntings — or simply take possession of the "haunted" item itself. This sort of behavior is especially associated with the Bonepicker archetype, arguably qualifying as a sub-archetype in its own right.
The main character gets accused of this in Dragon Quest V - he goes out to slay a beast terrorizing a farming village, only to find it's his old animal companion driven feral after he was taken into slavery for ten years. The villagers assume this is being pulled on them because they don't know the backstory, and they strongly hint that you should move on. One townsperson (a sweet, grandmotherly old woman) does realize he didn't actually do it, but still suggests he should move on as convincing the others that he's innocent will be impossible.
In Okage: Shadow King, the Chairman Evil King started a rumor that the heroes' guild was pulling this sort of scam with the ghosts. It's doubtful that they were, though.
Jak II: Renegade features a variation. The Metal Heads are legitimately a hostile invading force interested in destroying Haven City... but given the choice, they'd rather just lay low until they can do so, or at least do some real damage — the Gaiden GameDaxter covers one such attempt, disguised as a bug infestation to avoid alerting anyone before it's too late. The Krimzon Guard bribes them to make periodic ineffectual attacks so they can justify their brutal, fascist rule as necessary in the face of this threat.
In Episode 2 of Phantom Brave, Walnut falsely claims that Marona was running one of these, using her powers to summon evil phantoms to Windmill Promontory and then getting rid of them so she'd get paid for it. It's a lie, but given how hated and distrusted people with Marona's powers are, the person who hired her believes it without question and pays Walnut instead for the work she did. And this is after his plan to just kill her and take the credit that way falls through. Jerkass doesn't even begin to describe it.
Suikoden V has Euram do this with bandits rather than monsters. As an added bonus, the bandit leader was a look alike for the protagonist, adding an extra dividend to the plot.
Might and Magic V features this in the game's very first quest, in a city full of giant man-eating bugs. An exterminator has spent years getting paid to "work on the problem," while actually having the bugs shipped in from elsewhere.
In Final Fantasy X, Seymour lets fiends into Luca Stadium and defeats them in order to impress Yuna.
In a roundabout way, this is how Sin works - while the Church of Yevon isn't deliberately rigging the cycle of its destruction and reincarnation, they have no problem with using it to maintain their power.
The protagonists in Fear Is Vigilance decide to help their campaign to distribute free personal alarms by scaring the students into asking for them — by beating them up every night.
In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, it's apparently rumoured the original Dawnguard may have pulled this and faked Vampire attacks on cities, then charged them for better protection; or pulled this con after becoming Vampires themselves?! History is somewhat unclear on the details, but what is certain, there is a lot of treasure under Fort Dawnguard.
...And before you say "I don't need dinosaur insurance", and "get off my lawn", I think there's something you should frickin' come out here and see!
Duncan & Mallory tried to pull this off a couple times, (vegetarian) dragon J.P. Mallory would scare some villagers, they'd post a reward, then Duncan would "slay" the "beast" and collect the money. The first time a little girl that Mallory had helped out earlier spilled the beans, the second time they had to deal with a real dragon-slayer.
Tobuscus' "Safety Torch" video has Toby pulling this on an innocent child, waking him up in the middle of the night and offering to sell him torches to scare away the monsters that are coming to eat him... and then water to put out the fires caused by the torches. Close examination of the video reveals that one monster says, "Sup Toby," in a blink-or-you'll-miss-it speech bubble.
In Ben 10: Alien Force, Mike Morningstar/Darkstar's first appearance has him bluffing his way onto the Plumber team by driving away zombies he made with his own energy-stealing power.
In the first Ben 10 there was an ex-plumber who made a scam by releasing imprisoned aliens from the null void and offers his services at a price.
The Powerpuff Girls had this with a fake superhero called Major Man. It turned out he was setting up disasters, crimes, and even monster attacks so he could pretend to save the day and it would look as if the Girls weren't needed anymore. The girls beat him at his own game by bribing a monster to attack him, forcing him to admit his crimes and that he couldn't handle a real emergency.
Danny Phantom during the Grand Finale had the Masters' Blasters, a trio of teenage ghost hunters who do a better job fighting ghosts then The Hero Danny does. This is all tied to Vlad's secret plot to ruin Danny's reputation, and the trio later charge in exchange for their services. Could count as somewhat of an inversion, since it was the monster (Vlad) hiring the heroes. Notably, the Blasters didn't seem to realize their boss's secret either.
The end of the second season of Justice League starts with a convenient save by the Thanagarians as they shoot down a Gordanian scouter when it tried to invade the White House. The Thanagarians claim they can protect Earth from future invasions if Earth offers no resistance in their occupation. Batman, crazy paranoid as usual, realizes the Gordanian pilot was dead long before entering Earth's atmosphere.
Dudley Do-Right featured a mundane variation of this trope in one episode. In his latest scheme against the Mounties, Snidely Whiplash forms his own competing Mounties. They always got their man and made the regular Mounties look like a bunch of incompetents. However, all the captures made by the Snidely Mounties are staged since Snidely controls the local criminal element.
X-Men: Evolution did this with the Brotherhood who, deciding to try the hero thing out, saved a train from a disaster and was rewarded with fame and fortune by a thankful rescuee. They then try to be heroes to get the rewards, but when they run out of people to save they get greedy and desperate for more, eventually starting disasters of their own so they can get the recognition for saving the day. This blows up spectacularly, of course, and they lose all their luxuries (including the ones they got for legitimate work).