[[quoteright:276:[[ComicStrip/FoxTrot http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/paranoia_7247.jpg]]]]
[[caption-width-right:276:Jason's finest 12 hours.]]

->''"The more employees you have, the more you have to worry about them. Deliver some vague threats and a few hundred bucks to a security guard. If he's honest he'll tell his boss, who then wonders who ''wasn't'' so honest. For the cost of a nice dinner, you can get a whole security team canned."''
-->-- ''Series/BurnNotice'', "Wanted Man"

Alice tells Bob that she will "get him". Bob freaks out and goes to great lengths to avoid falling victim to her plans. In the end, it turns out that Alice wasn't going to do anything to him and that her whole plan was to just sit back and let his paranoia make him do stupid things to himself. A variation commonly occurs where the gambit is not intentional, and Alice admits that she actually ''was'' going to do something to him, but everything Bob did to himself was much better than what she had planned.

This is usually a case of RestrainedRevenge, although it can also be a practical joke with no prior provocation. It may overlap with SelfFulfillingProphecy when paranoia of a specific event ([[ImproperlyParanoid even if it's unlikely]]) causes said event to occur. The nastier versions may overlap with FrightDeathtrap.

Since it relies on the mark's paranoia, it resembles a BatmanGambit. Compare ConfoundThemWithKindness, where Alice acts nicely towards Bob after the fact to confuse him. Often this relies on making something innocent look like ShmuckBait.
See also KansasCityShuffle, which involves making the target suspect something and try to counteract that, then doing something else that needed them to do what they just did. Also #20 of UsefulNotes/TheThirtySixStratagems. Contrast ProperlyParanoid.



[[folder:Anime & Manga]]
* Guu in ''Anime/HareGuu'' regularly uses this tactic to torment Haré; having established how far she is willing to go, including [[RealityWarper distorting reality]], to mess with him, she can often get the same result by doing absolutely nothing, allowing Haré to drive himself crazy wondering what she ''might'' do.
* ''Manga/LiarGame'': Akiyama kept 24 hour surveillance on Nao's opponent to mess up his judgements. He did absolutely nothing else to the man until an hour before collection time...
* ''Anime/CodeGeass''' first season has Lelouch pull off one against Jeremiah. "Also, Orange". Specifically, he spoke what appeared to be a codeword to an enemy combatant on live TV, and then used Mind Control to make him release him; it doesn't mean anything but the Britannians don't know that and, since they don't know about the mind control, devote precious counter-intelligence resources to finding it out. The fact that Jeremiah got demoted for unwillingly helping Lelouch escape due to the latter's CompellingVoice (again, the Britannians don't know about that so they thought it was from blackmail related to the "codeword") was just a nice bonus.
* This is L's tactic in ''Manga/DeathNote'', to apply the pressure of ParanoiaFuel and watch for a RevealingCoverup. It does work, but not as successfully as he'd hoped; he counts the small victories until he has to concede defeat.

[[folder:Comic Books]]
* In ''Franchise/ArchieComics'', Jughead does this at least once to Reggie. One of these gambits culminated in Reggie [[PieInTheFace pieing]] ''himself'' in the face just so that he'd stop freaking out over every little thing Jughead did being a potential set-up for a revenge prank.
** ''World of Archie Digest'' #1, Betty does this to Veronica.
* Subverted in a ''Franchise/{{Batman}}'' story, in which a criminal becomes convinced that his new next-door neighbor is a disguised Batman trying to pull one of these him. Eventually, the guy snaps and attacks his neighbor... whereupon the ''real'' Batman shows up.
** The ''ComicBook/{{Grendel}}'' series used a similar subversion, following a criminal and snitch's descent into paranoid madness, for fear that the original Grendel is stalking him. Grendel does show up at the end, but only because something completely unrelated reminded him of the (''very'' petty) snitch.
* In Marv Wolfman's ''ComicBook/DuckTales'' comic story "Scrooge's Quest", after Flintheart Glomgold buys out all of Scrooge's businesses and takes over Duckburg, Scrooge pulls this on Glomgold in the final chapter, "All That Glitters is Not Glomgold". By the end of the story, Glomgold is driven so far up the wall thinking Scrooge is out to sabotage him, that he decides [[VictoryIsBoring victory isn't all it's cracked up to be]] and willingly tears up his ownership contract of the city.
* The first issue of the ''[[Film/WhoFramedRogerrabbit Roger Rabbit]]'' comic book had him becoming paranoid about his new [[AlwaysChaoticEvil weasel]] neighbor. Naturally, the weasel is harmless and just wants to be left alone.
* One ''WesternAnimation/HeavyMetal'' story involved the protagonists tricking the villain into giving up critical information by placing him in a realistic simulation where he thought he'd won. When they reveal this to him, he's informed he'll be left trapped in a hyper-realistic simulation for the rest of his life. As they leave, one of the protagonists reveals to the other that all she did was ''tell'' him he was trapped in a simulation.
* In ''Franchise/{{Batman}}: The Dark Knight Annual'' #1, Batman ensures a peaceful Halloween by inviting the Penguin, the Scarecrow and the Mad Hatter to the abandoned Arkham Home for Youth. Each has received a note, seemingly from the others, inviting him to meet at Arkham for a some sort of lucrative business. Immediately, they suspect Batman is setting up an ambush, and thus become paranoid. Through the course of the story, the three villains manage to freak out, agitate, gas, and in the end scare the daylights out of one another. The comic ends with the discovery that Bruce Wayne sent the notes, knowing that the three villains would play to each others’ worst fears and stay occupied throughout the night, thus guaranteeing Bruce, and Batman, a restful Halloween.
* Often done by ComicBook/{{Diabolik}} against someone who ''really'' pissed him off, usually by [[CruelMercy making clear he's going to kill them when he's in the mood and then leaving]], resulting in them ruining their lives in utter terror of what he'll do when he comes back. Considering [[TheDreaded his well-earned reputation]] as a murderer and [[NamesToRunAwayFromReallyFast King of Terror]] it works every time, even if he never spares a thought about them once he made sure it worked.
** In one particular occasion Diabolik did this to murder the director of a newspaper that [[WorstNewsJudgementEver had called him a fool that the police presented as a super thief to cover their own incompetence]]: after kidnapping him and poisoning the journalist who had written the article he told him he'd die in five days and released him. The poor director, terrified, hired bodyguards that would check anyone for LatexPerfection, would only eat food prepared by his personal cook and after it had been checked for poison, and lived those days in fear of Diabolik ''still'' killing him... Not knowing that, before releasing him, Diabolik had put a cyanide capsule in one of his dentures and terrified him so he would continuously clatter his teeth until the capsule broke, killing him on the fourth day. No newspaper dared to publish such an article again.

[[folder:Fan Works]]
* In ''Fanfic/OhGodNotAgain'', [[spoiler:Sirius]] mentions his plans to do this. "It's going to take every ounce of my considerable self-control, but I want to wait until [Snape's] so paranoid he can't sleep before I start in on him."
* In ''[[http://www.fanfiction.net/s/5373634/1/A_Prank_Too_Many A Prank Too Many,]]'' a ''Franchise/{{Transformers}}'' fic, Sideswipe spends a week playing various pranks on Tracks. Tracks retaliates with two words [[spoiler:"My turn"]] and this trope.
* In ''FanFic/ThisBites'', after Robin joins the crew, despite Cross' friendliness towards her, she remembers that after their first meeting, he promised that they'd meet again, and he'd pay her back. Cross informs her that he doesn't plan on getting her back anytime soon, because he needs to think a long time about what to do. And meanwhile...she can worry about it. [[spoiler:Eventually he gets back at Robin by giving her a noogie live on the SBS]].
* This tends to be one of Discord's go-tos in ''Fanfic/TheMLPLoops'' with certain variants of Celestia: upon his escape, she'll put the whole palace under lockdown, rally the guard, and cause all manner of chaos ''on her own'', without his slightest intervention. In one of his earliest loops, he even took the time to make the entire legal structure ''more efficient'', thus throwing both Celestia and Luna into a tizzy as they tried to decipher his plans.
* One of Naruto's more ingenious traps in ''[[https://www.fanfiction.net/s/4573620/14/A-Drop-of-Poison A Drop of Poison]]'' is a step that makes a slight click sound when stepped on. It does nothing but anyone who hears it reflexively jumps away from it, right into an actual trap.
* The "Curse of Calamity", as described in ''Franchise/{{Castlevania}}'' fanfic "[[https://www.fanfiction.net/s/11960165/11/Not-the-intended-use Not the intended use]]", is the oldest and most powerful hex known to man, which will bring the victim many misfortunes for the rest of their life. Or, more precisely, it does nothing, but the paranoia that comes with defying a witch convinces the victim that anything bad that ever happens to them must have been because of the curse.
* ''Fanfic/HarryPotterAndTheNatural20'': Milo is recovering from an acromantula bite, so Snape gives him the antidote in an ObviouslyEvil flask -- and uses Legilimency on him so that he knows Milo's plan to figure out whether the potion is safe and can immediately make up a reason why it wouldn't work. [[ItAmusedMe All of this is for nothing more than Snape's amusement at seeing Milo squirm.]]

* In ''Film/TheTallBlondManWithOneBlackShoe'', the head of the French secret service pulls one of these on his [[TheStarscream Starscream]] number two, by convincing him that a completely random stranger, the titular blond, is in fact a top agent who will 'deal with him'. This causes the number two to get increasingly paranoid, and eventually results in [[spoiler:him dying]].
* ''Film/NonStop'': The bad guy frames Marks as the hijacker and counts on him unwittingly acting like he is hijacking the plane [[spoiler: because he wants to expose the incompetence of the air marshals and American security in general. It works better than expected when the passengers turn on him]].

* From Creator/TerryPratchett's ''Discworld/WyrdSisters'':
-->Only once, in the entire history of witchery on the Ramtops, had a thief broken into a witch's cottage. The witch concerned visited the most terrible punishment on him.\\
She did nothing, although sometimes when she saw him in the village she'd smile in a faint, puzzled way. After three weeks of this the suspense was too much for him and he took his own life; in fact he took it all the way across the continent, where he became a reformed character and never went home again.
** Also from ''Literature/{{Discworld}}'', the short story ''The Sea and Little Fishes''. Granny Weatherwax does this to the entire Witch community merely by smiling and offering to help kindly, when she had been horribly insulted the night before by one of the contest's organizers. Seeing one of the most successful [[TheHecateSisters Crones]] out there acting like a kindly old lady makes everyone think she's planning something terrifying, and ruins the whole thing through sheer paranoia.
** Both [[OurWerewolvesAreDifferent Angua]] and [[TheHero Carrot]] are fond of saying that you can get quite a lot done with a friendly smile. Her smile has lots of pointy teeth; his tends to ''imply'' teeth. Neither tend to follow through with these potential threats, as that would be Police Brutality, but that doesn't mean people won't draw their own conclusions. As Sergeant Colon puts it, it's commonplace to see someone bluff with a bad hand, but it's rare to see someone bluff (and win) with ''no cards.''
* This is how Dora defeats [[spoiler:Albin]] in book four of ''Literature/DoraWilkSeries'': she changes their kill charm formula by adding runes "mirror reflection" and "powering up" (thus making the charm they make return to the caster stronger) and then suggests that she added charm elixir to their drink. She didn't, but being a [[SmugSnake vampire]], they think she did, so if they ever tries throwing this charm again, it will kill them instead.
* In the introduction of the Raymond Smullyan logic puzzle book ''What Is The Name Of This Book?'', the author talks about an incident in his childhood when his sister promised him she would "get him good" one April Fools Day. After a paranoia-filled day Smullyan proudly announced that April 1st was over and she hadn't got him once. She retorted that fooling him into fearing a non-existent prank ''was'' the prank.
* One of the characters in Creator/DianaWynneJones's ''Literature/DarkLordOfDerkholm'' performs one of these ''on himself'', though not intentionally. He just knows that his sister, Shona, is mad at him for letting their mother put a spell on her, and he remembers very clearly the way she waited patiently for days to take revenge on one of their siblings when she was younger. He never stops to think that maybe she's matured since then, and all this distracts him from fulfilling his mission, which was tough enough already.
* In Creator/IsaacAsimov's first Literature/BlackWidowers story "Literature/TheAcquisitiveChuckle", a rich collector's business partnership goes bad, and as the partner leaves, he snaps his suitcase shut in a suspicious manner and chuckles "acquisitively". The collector freaks out and his life goes downhill as he frantically searches through everything he owns to try to find out what valuable item his partner stole from him. Years later, his lawyer confronts the thief and asks him what he took. His answer? "Only his peace of mind, sir."
* In a rather more serious example, a woman in an Creator/AgathaChristie short story discovers [[spoiler: her husband intends to murder her once she signs an important document - a will or insurance thing or some such. She makes coffee, and insists on telling him something before she signs this document. She then tells him a completely invented story about two previous husbands that she poisoned in their coffee. He assumes she has poisoned ''him'', freaks out, and ''dies of a heart attack''; but there was nothing in his coffee.]]
** A related short story (can't remember the title just now), has a book critic happen upon [[spoiler: a woman whose book he criticized, but is unaware of that fact. She makes him a mushroom omelet, and while he is eating she mentions that she is an amateur mushroom hunter, and that she'd picked those herself. He panics, goes to the emergency room, and has his stomach pumped, only to find that they were perfectly ordinary mushrooms, and she has never picked them at all. The kicker: he had criticized her book for its inability to make the story seem real.]]
* The Franchise/DoctorWhoExpandedUniverse novel ''The Doctor Trap''. There's a lot of IKnowYouKnowIKnow about the titular trap the Doctor has supposedly set for the villain, but what it boils down to is that as long as the villain ''believes'' there's a Doctor Trap, the Doctor has the upper hand.
* In ''[[TabletopGame/ForgottenRealms Tangled Webs]]'' a drow said that they have a proverb "Revenge is BestServedCold"... and the second meaning is that ''knowing'' there's a scheming vengeful bastard out to get you usually has the target sweating long before the actual revenge is done..
* Zhuge Liang's Empty Fortress Strategy in ''Literature/RomanceOfTheThreeKingdoms'' was one of these mixed with RefugeInAudacity. In a bad position with a massively superior army headed his way, Zhuge Liang sent most of his troops away and had the rest disguise themselves, leaving the fort almost completely defenseless. Then he proceeded to go up on the wall and calmly play the zither, ignoring the approaching army. Upon seeing this, Zhuge Liang's arch-rival Sima Yi immediately expected a trap, since he knew Zhuge Liang to be a man who took very few risks and was prone to feigning weakness to bait an ambush. Ignoring the advice of his son, Sima Yi abandoned direct assault to try and get around the obvious trap before him...and wound up marching his army into Zhuge Liang's ''actual'' trap.
* ''Literature/{{Holes}}'': After Stanley has learned to no longer expect water from the vengeful Mr. Sir, Mr. Sir surprises him by refilling his canteen that day. But then he takes it to his car and gives it back a minute later, still full. Then he waits for Stanley to drink from it. When he's so thirsty he can no longer bear it, Stanley pours the entire contents of the canteen, refusing to drink from it thanks to his suspicion.
* In Plato's ''Apology of Socrates'', Socrates' friend Chaerephon asks the Oracle of Delphi if there is any man wiser than Socrates. The Oracle is famous for her [[ProphecyTwist convoluted and ambiguous replies]], but that time she answers a straight "No." Socrates, being who he is, is convinced it is some kind of sophisticated twist and spends much time and energy trying to understand it.

[[folder:Live Action TV]]
* As mentioned in the page quote, this is used in ''Series/BurnNotice.'' The context here is that Michael and company are going up against a hotel owner who stole his own distinctive diamond broach. After Michael unsuccessfully attempted to get him to move the broach by posing as a potential buyer, they resort to this trope.
** Interestingly, one of the flaws of this strategy is pointed out here. When people are sufficiently paranoid they often become desperate. It nearly gets Michael in serious trouble.
* The ''Series/EverybodyLovesRaymond'' episode "Getting Even" has Debra pulling this on Ray.
* Megan does this in an episode of ''Series/DrakeAndJosh''. It works hilariously. At the end of the episode, she does something to Drake and Josh anyway. That's just her doing things to them for the hell of it again, just like she always does. It's that type of behavior that made the gambit work in the first place (she actually told them she ''wasn't'' going to do anything [[CassandraTruth and let her past actions speak for themselves.]]) Drake and Josh even lampshade the fact.
-->'''Drake''': Well, she got us...
-->'''Josh''': ...by ''not'' getting us.
* ''Series/{{MASH}}'' Season 11 episode "The Joker Is Wild". BJ Hunnicutt bets Hawkeye he can play a practical joke on each of the main characters. As the other characters fall victim to pranks one at a time, Hawkeye becomes increasingly worried about when he is going to get his, ending up camping outside in his bed, surrounded by barbed wire. At the end Hawkeye learns that [[spoiler:BJ didn't actually play any practical jokes on the others, they were all faked. Making Hawkeye paranoid was the practical joke, the bet only being a tool and losing it part of the plan]].
* In an episode of ''Series/NightCourt'', Harry got into a competition with a younger judge who seemed to be just as much a prankster as he was, betting who could pull the best practical joke on the other. The younger judge warned that he'd pull his joke before Harry's session ended, and ''everyone'' was paranoid, and it seemed like this was the Trope. When Harry made his ruling on the last case of the night, and still nothing from the guy, he figured he was safe, and rapped his gavel to adjourn the court - causing his bench to fall apart. It seemed the other guy had won, and Harry conceded defeat... But unbeknownst to anyone, Harry was actually playing a ''real'' BatmanGambit which took ''everyone'', especially his rival, by shock when he pulled one of the most spectacular pranks ever five minutes later.
-->'''Harry:''' Cleaver, you may be younger. You may be faster. You may even be even smarter. But you will ''never'' be crazier...'''THAN ME'''.
* ''Series/HowIMetYourMother''
** Played for all it's worth in the episode "Slapsgiving". In a previous episode ("Slap Bet"), Marshall has been allotted five slaps that he can give to Barney. He has chosen to give the third slap at Thanksgiving, going so far as to post a countdown online. The anticipation starts to get to Barney, and Marshall's tactics to psych him out don't help any. Tired of the whole thing, Lily (as "slap bet commissioner") calls it off so that they could have a pleasant Thanksgiving dinner. But Barney's gloating as the countdown approaches get to her, and at the last moment she lets Marshall slap him just to shut him up.
** Turned UpToEleven in "Slapsgiving 2: Revenge of the Slap". In honor of Thanksgiving, Marshall gives his fourth slap to Ted and Robin, who spend most of the episode arguing about who gets it. It ends with the rights to the slap being passed all around the room, (with each preparing to take the slap before passing it off to someone else, much to Barney's increased torture) until Marshall, saying that the togetherness it's caused is what he wanted, calls the slap off. [[spoiler:Then he [[DidntSeeThatComing slaps Barney anyway]].]]
*** The existence of this trope is why Barney was urged by some of his friends to choose "10 slaps right now" rather than "5 slaps at any random time in the future".
* Mr. Wick tries this once on ''Series/TheDrewCareyShow'', but fails miserably. After Drew punches Mr. Wick in the face, they agree that Wick should be allowed to punch Drew as well. Wick tries playing up the paranoia angle, saying Drew will never know where or when the punch is coming, but Drew just ignores the taunts and goes on with his life. When Mr. Wick finally ''does'' punch him, Drew is barely even fazed, while Wick's fist is severely hurt.
* ''Series/{{Jessie}}'': Unintentionally happens in the episode "A Close Shave"". Bertram accidentally shaves the middle of Luke's head after being startled by Zuri. Both Bertram and Zuri fear that Luke will get revenge on them even after Luke forgave them. They even destroy the presents he gave them thinking it was a prank.
-->'''Luke:''' Wow! I didn't have to do anything. Just sit back and let your paranoia destroy you.
* In ''Series/ThePrisoner'', Number Six does this to a cruel Number Two in the episode "Hammer Into Anvil". Specifically, Six acts as if he was planted by Two's superiors and is sending them cryptic messages questioning his loyalty; Two not only tears his hair out trying to follow the trail, but pushes away one colleague after another as untrustworthy. At the end, when Six points out that a loyal man would have ''left it alone'':
-->'''Two:''' Don't tell them. Don't report me.
-->'''Six:''' I don't intend to. ''[[{{Beat}} (beat) ]]'' [[CrowningMomentOfAwesome You are going to report yourself.]]
-->'''Two:''' * taking the phone* I have to report a breakdown in control. Number Two needs to be replaced. * beat* Yes, this is Number Two reporting.
* [[AlmightyJanitor The Janitor]] has done this to JD once or twice in ''Series/{{Scrubs}}''.
** He also comes up with a nasty inversion for "Sunny" Dey; while trapping the rest of the interns in the elevator, he tells her that she's "too weak" for him to take revenge on. She spends the entire day ''trying'' to get him to do something nasty to her, until she finally confronts him and says she ''isn't'' weak. He replies that she isn't; that's why he came up with a ''special'' torture for her.
* DJ does this to Stephanie in an episode of ''Series/FullHouse'' as punishment for listening in on her phone calls.
* In one ''Series/{{Cheers}}'' episode, Diane tricks the bar folk, then becomes increasingly paranoid that they're plotting revenge. When she's asked to read her poetry for a TV show, she thinks it's a ruse, and humiliates herself by clucking like a chicken on television. Turns out all the gang intended to do was dump a bucket of water on her.
** In another episode, the Cheers gang pulls a prank on rival bar Gary's, and the paranoia becomes so intense they shave their own heads on the idea that this will prevent retribution. Turns out Gary was out of town and didn't even know about the prank.
* Done to Jerry on ''Series/{{Seinfeld}}'' by a pissed-off girlfriend who, in response to his accidentally knocking her toothbrush in the toilet and not telling her for several days, proceeded to put something of his in the toilet when he wasn't looking. Jerry, a neat-freak, proceeds to start throwing out random things in his apartment, until she finally reveals it was [[spoiler: his toilet brush]].
--> '''Jerry:''' Ok… I can replace that...
* ''Series/{{Sonny With A Chance}}'': Chad pulls this on the cast of ''So Random!'' when he hosts a celebrity prank show.
* ''Series/BabylonFive'':
** Sinclair pulls one on G'kar, after the latter's actions result in a threat to the station's safety.
---> '''Garibaldi:''' I wonder if they'll ever find that transmitter you slipped in G'kar's drink.\\
'''Sinclair:''' No, they won't. Because there is none. I figured if there was a transmitter sooner or later they'd find it and remove it. But if I just told him there was, they'd keep looking. Indefinitely.\\
'''Garibaldi:''' Commander, do you have any idea of the ''tests'' they'll put him through, the ''things'' they'll do to him, tryin' to find a transmitter that's ''not there?''\\
'''Sinclair:''' Yes. Come on.\\
'''Garibaldi:''' There are some days I love this job.
** Played with later, between [[TragicHero Ambassador Londo Molari]] and [[AristocratsAreEvil Lord Refa]]. It is never made clear whether Londo was telling the truth or not, though given [[DeadlyDecadentCourt Centauri politics]], it is entirely likely he was not lying.
---> '''Lord Refa:''' Why should I do as you say?\\
'''Londo Mollari:''' Because I have asked you; because your sense of duty to our people should override any personal ambition; and [[MagnificentBastard because I have poisoned your drink.]]
*** To elaborate: the poison Londo claims to have used is one-half of a binary poison, which remains latent in the body. That means that he has Lord Refa on a leash indefinitely, for fear of being dosed with the second component of the poison if he ever defies Londo in the future.[[note]]This works because the second component won't kill a taster--except in the extremely unlikely event that the taster has also been previously dosed with the first component--and probably won't be caught by any other device to detect poison.[[/note]] The final irony is that [[spoiler:Londo eventually ''does'' have Refa murdered, but not by poisoning.]]
* ''Series/DoctorWho'': The Doctor tells a random person whose only job was translating [[spoiler:"Don't you think she looks tired?"]], while [[spoiler:Harriet Jones]] stands by without her being able to hear. When she inquires she seems paranoid, and even if the translator tells her, she wouldn't believe it, keeping inquiring and getting more and more paranoid.
* Ben uses this to wonderfully creepy effect in the ''Series/{{Lost}}'' episode "The Whole Truth"
--> '''Ben:''' Wow, you guys have some real trust issues, don't you? Guess it makes sense she didn't tell you, what with you two fighting all the time. Of course, if I was one of them - these people you seem to think are your enemies - what would I do? Well, there'd be no balloon, so I'd draw a map to a real secluded place like a cave or some underbrush - good place for a trap - an ambush. And when your friends got there, a bunch of my people would be waiting for them. Then they'd use them to trade for me. I guess it's a good thing I'm not one of them, huh? You guys got any milk?
* In ''Series/{{The Office|US}}'', Dwight ambushes Jim by hiding inside a snowman. Later that day, when Jim is walking to his car, he finds himself surrounded by snowmen. As Jim snaps and starts destroying every one of them, Dwight watches from the roof. "In the end, the greatest snowball isn't a snowball at all. It's ''fear''. Merry Christmas."
* Used in an episode of ''Series/{{NCIS}}'' as retaliation for black ink on the binocular eyepieces. Ziva's increasing paranoia over what Tony will do for revenge leads her to do such things as throw away her lunch when she finds out he picked up the order. [[spoiler:The payoff comes when Tony does get her just before the credits by rigging her desk chair to collapse.]]
** [[DiscussedTrope Discussed]] in a the first season episode, "Dead Man Talking". Tony and [=McGee=] are on a stakeout, with Tony wondering what kind of practical jokes he can play on Kate. [=McGee=] is reluctant, but mentions that they could invoke this trope on Kate without risk of pranking Gibbs in the process.
* The TropeCodifier in TV may be the episode "The Impractical Joke" of ''Series/TheDickVanDykeShow''. After Buddy gets a friend to play a practical joke on Rob, Rob decides that the best revenge is to make Buddy increasingly paranoid about what Rob's revenge will be. [[spoiler: The aforementioned friend takes advantage of this to pull another prank on Buddy in the end.]]
* Played with and eventually subverted during a April Fools episode of ''Series/MarriedWithChildren''. In the middle of an [[EscalatingWar prank war with Jefferson]], Al Bundy one day finds a beautiful woman in his house making him dinner. Assuming this is another one of Jefferson's practical jokes, Al goes along with it, not wanting to concede defeat. Unfortunately for Al, Jefferson had nothing to do with this woman: She was an old rival of Peg's (who was off searching the world for her missing father) who's trying to get revenge for her stealing one of her old boyfriends by stealing Al. In the ultimate bid to get her to leave, Al proposes to her. To his shock, she accepts. At the wedding, Al's paranoia is at an all-time high, because he's just waiting for Jefferson to pop in and say "Gotcha!" Jefferson does come in, but tells Al that he had nothing to do with the woman there. He then reveals his true prank: He made sure Peg came home just in time to see what was going on.
* ''Series/TheNewAvengers'': In "Forward Base", Purdey and Gambit spook a Russian agent into revealing the location of the base by calling him to tell him his cover is blown, and then doing absolutely nothing. They reason that the fact that he cannot find them will absolutely convince him that they are on to him.
* Dawn delivers a nice gambit in the ''Series/NickyRickyDickyAndDawn'' episode, "Diary of an Angry Quad". After realizing her brothers read her diary, she decided to get them back by writing a false entry saying that two of the boys are conspiring to do something to the third. This leads the boys to distrust each other and be nice to Dawn to get information from her.
* The [[Series/MissionImpossible Impossible Missions Force]] had this in their usual bag of tricks in order to screw with the minds of their targets, typically by using a FalseFlagOperation to convince the mark that someone else on their side was out to get them, and then exploiting the paranoia to get on with what they were really up to.
* In ''Series/AgentsOfShield'', SHIELD fooled HYDRA into killing three of its top leaders by making it look like these leaders planned to kill the rest off. HYDRA's paranoia made it vulnerable to this tactic, especially since several of the leaders were competing to replace the recently vacated top spot.

[[folder:Newspaper Comics]]
* ''ComicStrip/BeetleBailey'': "The trick was, there was no trick."
* The above comic strip is from a ''ComicStrip/FoxTrot'' story when Peter accidentally destroyed Jason's rocket, causing the latter to proclaim that he will have his vengeance in the next 12 hours. This led to Peter, among other things jumping out of his room window after hearing a knock on the door, hiding all the knives in the house inside the toilet tank, destroyed his mom's rose bush by hiding in it then hiding under the couch dirtying the house (all of the aforementioned actions causing him to be grounded), eating leaves for dinner and lying on dog poop for several hours. Just as Jason planned.
** Another strip had Paige getting ready to eat a sandwich only to find Peter staring at her with an evil grin. She proceeds to bombard Peter with questions about why he's smiling and if he did something to her sandwich (specifically spitting on it) only for him to constantly shoot her down. Paige then dares ''him'' to eat the sandwich...
--->'''Peter''': ''[Thinking while eating the sandwich]'' Works every time.
--->'''Jason''': ''[Grinning]'' Don't you want to eat ''my'' sandwich?
** All three Fox siblings have fallen for this at some point. Another strip has Jason hiding in the garbage after playing some prank on Paige. Peter and Paige then talk about how they love it when their little brother punishes himself.
* [[http://garfield.com/comic/2009-03-05 This]] ''{{ComicStrip/Garfield}}'' comic, where all Garfield needs to induce paranoia in Jon is a big smile.
* An early ''ComicStrip/{{Dilbert}}'' comic has Dogbert chuckling around Dilbert. Dilbert immediately figures out that Dogbert is only doing this so Dilbert will ''think'' Dogbert has played some kind of prank, so Dogbert upgrades to [[EvilLaugh maniacal laughter]]. Dilbert does the same, and the strip ends with both of them sitting back to back, maniacally laughing, as Ratbert enters.

[[folder:Tabletop Games]]
* ''TabletopGame/{{Paranoia}}'': Friend Gamemaster is encouraged to occasionally roll dice for no particular reason and smirk, or pass a note to a PC that just says "Act like this note says something important".

[[folder:Video Games]]
* Early in ''VideoGame/AmnesiaTheDarkDescent'', it will give you the helpful hint of how to hide from monsters. There are no monsters for quite a while. Not that you'd know that. The game in general does this so well, minor sounds can get you to scream just because the tension is that high and you're ''that'' paranoid.
* In ''Franchise/TheElderScrolls'' series, one of the [[http://www.uesp.net/wiki/Skyrim:Myths_of_Sheogorath myths surrounding Sheogorath]], the [[OurGodsAreDifferent Daedric Prince]] of [[MadGod Madness]], has a wizard come to him asking for power. Sheogorath says he can have it, ''if'' Sheogorath fails to drive the wizard insane within [[RuleOfThree three days]]. The fear drives said wizard completely bonkers even though Sheogorath hadn't actually bothered ''[[WinsByDoingAbsolutelyNothing doing anything]]''.
* ''VideoGame/YouDontKnowJack'', starting in volume 3, has a category known as Impossible Questions, mind-bendingly difficult questions which are worth a game-breaking $20,000 to whoever can get one right (or a game-breaking loss of $20,000 for whoever gets one wrong.) One of the Impossible Questions is from a category called "It's a Dog!" The question is "What has four legs, barks, and is a common household pet?" Awkward silence from the contestants. (The answer really is "a dog.")

* In ''Webcomic/{{Freefall}}'', Sam Starfall's reputation for pulling these off is so well-known that it works even when he doesn't actually have a plan.
-->'''Helix:''' What sort of devious master plan do you have, Sam?
-->'''Sam:''' None at all. But don't worry, Helix, they'll think of something.
* Pintsize ''tries'' to do this once in ''Webcomic/QuestionableContent'', but the rest of the cast don't fall for it.
* Miho does this to Largo in ''Webcomic/{{Megatokyo}}'', just to mess with him. She tells him she left a present for him in his apartment, which he naturally assumes could be anything up to and including a bomb. She later admits to Piro that she didn't really get a present for Largo, but she hopes he enjoyed it nevertheless.
** Interestingly, Miho may have done him a favor, since Largo's heightened paranoia allowed him to intercept one of Erika's crazier fanboys before he could reach her. Whether [[MagnificentBastard Miho]] planned this or even realized it after the fact is never explained.
* In ''[[Webcomic/TheLastDaysOfFoxhound The Last Days of FOXHOUND]]'', Psycho Mantis and Revolver Ocelot tend to pull this ploy on each other with various degrees of success. Perhaps the best example is a case where Ocelot implies that he has tampered with [[MustHaveCaffeine Mantis' coffee]], (Mantis has a coffee obsession that is ''extremely'' SeriousBusiness, as he has his personal supply of coffee that is custom-made and is so expensive he has to [[CrackIsCheaper rob banks to help finance it]]) and while it's implied that Ocelot hasn't actually done anything to the coffee, his recently acquired [[PowerNullifier telepathy blocking technology]] keeps Mantis from being able to tell for sure. In the end, Mantis becomes too paranoid to drink his beloved coffee.
-->'''Ocelot:''' You know, back when I was with the KGB, my area of specialty wasn't assassination, it was torture. ... Sure, I was pissed off yesterday, but then it hit me. Even if I can't kill you, I can still make your life miserable. Take that cup of coffee, for instance. Maybe this morning when you weren't looking, I poured in a jar of my own urine while it was brewing. Or maybe I didn't. Anyone else, [[{{Telepathy}} you could read their mind and find out]], but with me you'll never really know. So I think I'll have a very nice day, in fact. Enjoy your coffee.\\
'''Mantis:''' ''(after several {{beat panel}}s of staring at his coffee)'' Goddamnit.
* ''Webcomic/{{xkcd}}'' [[http://xkcd.com/524/ does this]] with {{Rickroll}}ing.
* In ''Webcomic/SluggyFreelance'' Bun-Bun [[http://www.sluggy.com/daily.php?date=090621 pulls one of these on Riff,]] though he later gets revenge in a [[http://sluggy.com/daily.php?date=090623 more direct way.]]
* [[HiveMind Think Tank]] in ''Webcomic/SequentialArt'' [[http://www.collectedcurios.com/sequentialart.php?s=563 used it when playing a wargame]] to beat Pip in an [[BoringButPractical embarassingly simple]] way.
* Doubly subverted in the series beginning from [[http://www.absurdnotions.org/page44.html this]] ''AbsurdNotions'' strip.
* In [[http://www.viruscomix.com/page508.html this]] ''Webcomic/{{Subnormality}}'' strip, a harassed and undertipped waitress psyches two businessmen into thinking she messed with their free coffee.
* In ''Webcomic/YetAnotherFantasyGamerComic'' the Drow Queen [[http://yafgc.net/comic/0070-a-quick-promotion/ poisoned a Grey Elf representative]] on a meeting and chose to [[SurprisinglyEliteCannonFodder send Arachne instead of herself]] to the next one. Knowing this, Arachne decides to [[http://yafgc.net/comic/0075-dressing-down/ give some wine]] as a "peace offering" from her Queen to the replacement Grey Elf rep. One strip later, HilarityEnsues.
* In ''Webcomic/{{Enjuhneer}}'', Kali [[http://www.enjuhneer.com/archives/492-lazy-sunday pulls one of these]] on Myra, quipping "Laziest April Fools' ever."
* In ''Webcomic/{{Misfile}}'', Ash's [[http://www.misfile.com/?date=2013-06-06 plan]] for Heather to beat a rival driver is to act like s/he just gave her a plan.
* In ''Webcomic/{{Homestuck}}'' one of the stages of the Condesce's plan to take over the Earth involved pulling one on the entire planet. She announced herself as an alien who will conquer the world and let the nations of Earth start preparing for an invasion that never came. This not only created mass hysteria, ideal for fracturing a society and preventing it from maintaining or defending itself, but also allowed her pick of the weapons built to confront her.
* Dr. Helen Narbon (senior) is a ''master'' of this technique in ''Webcomic/{{Narbonic}}''. Roughly 90% of her evil schemes consist of simply saying "Heh heh heh" in answer to any question.
-->'''Dr. Narbon:''' Heh heh heh.
-->'''Helen:''' This is how she used to get me to eat cream corn.
* In ''WebComic/StandStillStaySilent'', Tuuri pulls a minor one on her employer's three children: after one of them pushes the wrong button by [[WeightWoe calling her fat]], she tells them that she heard their parents say one of them was adopted and that they loved that child less than the other two.

[[folder:Web Original]]
* In ''Literature/UnrealEstate'', Kisei does this to [[spoiler: the man who had her father killed, promising to come back and kill him on a Wednesday. "Maybe next week, maybe 20 years from now." She has no intention of coming back.]]
* [[Wiki/SCPFoundation Dr Clef]] is very fond of these.
--> * [[http://scp-wiki.wikidot.com/supplemental-report-239-b-192 And here's the really fucked up part, Kondraki… what if I'm lying right now?]]
--> * [[http://scp-wiki.wikidot.com/routine-psychological-evaluations-by-dr-glass Why would I do that? That's as ridiculous as claiming that I've prepared a sopoforic-laced gum to give to you under the guise of a friendly offer of refreshments, thus knocking you out so that I can dispatch you at my leisure and throw your body into the incinerator, destroying all evidence, meaning that it will never be traceable back to me.]]
* In a more mundane example of this trope, someone (who has ended up on a repository of IRC quotes) has claimed that he saw some man in a delivery van parked on a parking spot reserved for handicapped students. So he simply slipped a note on the windshield saying he was "sorry for [[WatchThePaintJob scratching the paint job]]" and has happened to catch the man scanning his van for half an hour looking for the nonexistent scratch.

[[folder:Western Animation]]
* After Roy of ''U.S. Acres'' (on ''WesternAnimation/GarfieldAndFriends'') plays a practical joke on Orson, Orson uses this as a revenge. [[spoiler:Lanolin actually does play a joke on him using a disguise that makes her look like Orson in a PaperThinDisguise.]]
* An episode of ''WesternAnimation/TheAngryBeavers'' does this: Norbert spends the majority of the episode telling Dagget "gonna get ya".
** And then he subverts it at the end by punishing him anyway.
* On ''WesternAnimation/AmericanDad'', Klaus swears revenge on Steve and Roger after they pull a prank on him, and they spend most of the episode going insane from anticipation. Subverted when [[spoiler:Klaus forgets all about it, but now that they reminded him, he gets set to exact his revenge. Steve and Roger stop him by blocking his fishbowl.]]
* In ''WesternAnimation/FamilyGuy'', this happens between Stewie and Brian following the [[NoHoldsBarredBeatdown "Where's my money?"]] gag. Stewie lets Brian have a free shot at him, but he won't know when, and Stewie goes mad with anticipation. [[spoiler:Subverted in the last second of the episode, where Brian kicks Stewie in front of a bus.]]
* In ''WesternAnimation/JusticeLeague Unlimited'', ComicBook/{{Superman}}'s suspicions about ComicBook/LexLuthor and his growing public approval rating left him open for Luthor to trap him with this. Luthor had a self-sustaining city built for the homeless, and Superman detected a device with a timer underground. Ignoring [[ComicBook/{{Shazam}} Captain Marvel's]] pleas to resolve the issue peacefully, he charged straight down to destroy it. As it turned out, the device was a generator, which, though powered by kryptonite, was legit. Superman had levelled the city by this point, however, and had publicly fought Captain Marvel over the incident. This left his own reputation in tatters, and resulted in Captain Marvel [[BrokenPedestal resigning from the Justice League in disillusionment.]] [[XanatosGambit Had Supes left well enough alone, all Luthor would have gained was the extra PR from his charity.]] In fact, Luthor only expected Superman to destroy the generator; he never expected Supes and Captain Marvel to get into a televised slap-fight that destroyed the city. Luthor was then able to publicly "be the bigger man" by paying for the damages himself and refusing reimbursement by the League.
** Another more minor example occurs between [[ComicBook/{{Hawkman}} Hawkgirl]] and ComicBook/{{Vixen}}, both rivals for GreenLantern John Stewart's affections (though Vixen was his girlfriend at the time, while Hawkgirl was his ex). Hawkgirl laments the fact that she cannot resolve this rivalry as she could have done back home on planet Thanagar, like by, for instance, poisoning Vixen's water. A little later on, Hawkgirl throws Vixen a bottle of water as the latter leaves the room, who, recalling what the former had said, warily bins the bottle.
* A variant in ''WesternAnimation/TheSpectacularSpiderMan'': Eddie Brock returns to town without telling anyone, and messes with Peter's head by following him around and letting Peter get occasional glimpses of him, eventually even making a suit that makes him look like Venom at a distance. The purpose is to get Peter to check on where he left the Venom symbiote, leading Eddie to it in the process.
* Candace of ''WesternAnimation/PhineasAndFerb'' pulls this on herself in "The Best Lazy Day Ever", when her brothers decide to spend the day relaxing in the sunshine. Without one of their insanely ambitious schemes to expose to their mother she doesn't know what to do, working herself up to encouraging them to take on a project and finally doing it herself. Phineas and Ferb remain idle under their tree the whole time.
* ''WesternAnimation/BatmanTheAnimatedSeries'':
** Despite this being 2/3 of Batman's M.O., the Riddler's origin episode "If You're So Smart, Why Aren't You Rich?" features the Riddler pulling an epic one... sort of. He seeks revenge on his former employer Mockridge, who had contemptuously fired him when he asked for a share in the profits of a game he'd created. Batman and Robin manage to save Mockridge, but the Riddler gets away and implies he will eventually return to finish the job. The episode ends with a terrified Mockridge in his mansion, locking every door and window in the place, checking every shadow, and getting into bed with a loaded shotgun at his side while Bruce muses on the situation:
---> '''Bruce:''' [[PyrrhicVillainy Mockridge may have his money, but he won't be sleeping well]]. "How much is a good night's sleep worth?" Now THERE'S a riddle for you.
** In the episode "Joker's Millions", Joker inherits a fortune and uses it to buy his freedom, then spends a montage living it up as a rich man. When asked by Penguin what his scheme is, Joker remarks that he has none; The knowledge that the Bat-family can't touch him and that it's upsetting Batman is good enough.
** In the episode "Read My Lips", Batman, stuck in a DeathTrap, says that he found Scarface because the Ventriloquist tipped him off. Enraged, Scarface orders his {{mooks}} to kill the Ventriloquist. Since Scarface is actually a dummy operated by the Ventriloquist, they hesitate to carry out the order. Scarface then loses it and accuses the whole gang of disloyalty, giving Batman an opening to escape and defeat the villains.
* In ''WesternAnimation/BatmanBeyond'', Terry has to resort to this in two stories to Paxton Powers and Inque's daughter respectively when they screwed over their parents, profited from it and Batman can't bring them to justice. Namely, he visits them and suggests most heavily to each that their supervillain parents would possibly come after them for revenge and may strike at any time. While Paxton isn't fazed, considering he could afford increasing his security detail, Inque is unsettled.
* Twilight Sparkle accidentally does this to herself in the ''WesternAnimation/MyLittlePonyFriendshipIsMagic'' episode "It's About Time": At the start of the episode, she's visited by her future self, who appears to be wounded and tries to warn her of an impending disaster, but the time travel spell ends before she can say what the disaster is. Twilight Sparkle spends most of the episode trying to prevent the disaster from happening, but she gets the same injuries as future Twilight, proving she didn't change the future. At the end, it is revealed that there was nothing to worry about, so Twilight sneaks into Canterlot castle to steal a time travel spell and tell her past self to not worry, but she is interrupted before she can, creating a StableTimeLoop.
* Slappy Squirrel in the ''WesternAnimation/{{Animaniacs}}'' episode "I Got Your Can" pulls one off on Candie Chipmunk, after having subjected her to some well-deserved revenge. And then it stopped. Cue the Paranoia Gambit.


[[folder:Real Life]]
* Bomb threats in general do this. Some terrorist groups sometimes report the bombs they planted - in vague terms. Evacuation of a large public place and related panic (especially if the threat turned out to be real) causes plenty of terror, even without killing civilians or even using any bombs. Killing civilians is bad PR. Disrupting business and operations by forcing them to evacuate is still quite effective. If you are a right bastard, you can do this enough times with ''fake'' threats to invoke CryingWolf, and ''then'' hit them with a ''real'' bomb. See also: [[http://www.cardiachill.com/2012/8/16/3245197/pitt-pittsburgh-panthers-bomb-threats-email-indicted-scotland-scottish-national-liberation-army The University of Pittsburgh Bomb Threat Saga of Spring 2012.]] Nearly 150 bomb threats over the course of about a month. It cost the university thousands and thousands of dollars for each evacuation, and the bomber was never even on the ''same continent''.
* The concept of the "Panopticon" prison is founded on this. A clever circular design allows direct, line-of-sight observation of any prisoner cell from a central observation tower without the inmates being able to tell ''which'' cell the guards might be looking at. Without being able to tell which cells are currently under observation, or even how many guards are doing the observing, inmates must assume ''they'' are under observation and behave themselves. The effect still works even if the observation tower is unoccupied.
* George Clooney (who has a reputation for pulling pranks on his co-stars) once did this to Brad Pitt. During the filming of ''Ocean's Twelve'', a production staff member managed to get a key to Pitt's house and offered it to Clooney; this was after he had pranked Pitt several times during ''Ocean's Eleven''. Clooney told the staff member to just ''tell'' Pitt that he had given the key to him. Pitt spent hours every night going through his house to see if Clooney had snuck in and done something.
* UsefulNotes/FascistItaly's OVRA may have been this trope, enacted by UsefulNotes/BenitoMussolini drawing on his experience as a journalist. As far as anyone knew back in the day it was a scaringly efficient SecretPolice and ''anyone'' could have been a member-but there's no evidence it actually existed beyond a name that sounds suspiciously like "piovra" (meaning "octopus" in Italian) and served as anything more than this and a distraction for the ''regular'' police to do the actual job, and it never officially existed.