This term refers to both a role in a con and a tale that uses the role. Goes like this: The Fake Mark pretends he is a big juicy target, someone easy to hate, someone who needs to be 'taken down.' The true conman brings this juicy target to the attention of a third party (the actual mark).
The idea is to get the real mark to chip in some funds in order to take down the fake mark, then take off with those funds. Frequently, the true mark of this tale is another conman, a juicy target being something a conman finds hard to pass by.
In the classic Violin Scam, the fake mark would be the violin owner, whom the real mark would try to con by buying the "hidden Stradivarius" violin for much cheaper than a real Stradivarius would be worth (but still much more than the actual, common violin's real value).
See also The Shill, which also involves pretending not to be part of the con.
- In the movie The Sting, Paul Newman's character Gondorff plays a fake mark when he is working as the obnoxious bookie "Shaw".
- House of Games involves a fake mark (cop) to trap the female protagonist.
- The Handmaiden: Sook-Hee thinks she's being brought on board of a plan to con Lady Hideko out of her inheritance, but she's actually being set up as a patsy so Lady Hideko can swap identities with her and have her thrown in an asylum. Things get complicated when they both fall In Love with the Mark and feel so guilty that they just confess to each other.
- In Fingersmith Sue thinks she's conning Maud but Maud is actually conning her.
- Discworld's Moist von Lipwig was fond of this one, preferring to scam those with plenty of greed and little scruples by using their greed against them.
There is a saying "You can't fool an honest man" which is much quoted by people who make a profitable living by fooling honest men. Moist never knowingly tried it, anyway. If you did fool an honest man, he tended to complain to the local Watch, and these days they were harder to buy off. Fooling dishonest men was a lot safer and, somehow, more sporting.
- The Ghosts' gambling scam in Ghostmaker uses the framework of an obviously crooked (but incompetently so) guessing game. The idea is that the showman, Varl, is seen running the game as a way to con the other Guardsmen out of their money. They "force" him to make several concessions (handing off his betting to Milo, making sure he doesn't touch the game at all), then Caffran arrives, faking drunk, and starts making tremendous wagers. Thus the other Guardsmen see both Varl and Caffran as easy marks — the former having lost control of the game, the latter a drunk — and are taken in for all they're worth when Milo turns out to have been in on it the whole time.
- This is the role that Marco Pasternak tends to play in Better Call Saul with his partnership with fellow Con Man, "Slippin'" Jimmy McGill.
- On Hustle, this is usually either Danny or Albert. On at least one occasion, it was outside help, and the audience weren't told this until the Once More, with Clarity! scene, until which she'd been presented as the actual mark.
- In Only Fools and Horses, the episode "Cash and Curry" reveals that the two rival Indian businessmen that Del had been attempting to con, were actually conmen themselves.
- On Leverage, Nate usually handles this role combined with his usual style.
- In one episode of White Collar, Alex takes on this role so that Neal could prove to a college student that he wasn't as smart as he thought he was.
- King of the Hill: in one episode, Peggy is conned into getting a degree from a diploma mill. When she discovers that a large number of people who clearly are not mental giants also bought degrees, she realizes it's a scam and sets up a The Sting-type counter-scam to get their money back. Subverted in that the con man stops betting just before placing the last bet, so he keeps the money from his original diploma mill con plus the bait money he was winning in the leadup bets to convince him that it really was a sure thing. It's then played straight with Peggy herself as the False Mark, because it turns out she'd planned for him to stop betting at that point all along; when Hank shows up to challenge the con man about the money, he stows it in his room safe, and Boomhauer sneaks it out through the false back of the safe from the room next door.