People are willing to do anything for the safety of a friend or loved one. If you're the friend or loved one, you can play this to your advantage for material or emotional gain. All you have to do is "disappear," leave a ransom note, and everyone will think you're being held captive. The best part is you don't have to put yourself in actual danger to get the benefits of people going out of their way to save you.
There are quite a few reasons for doing this. Perhaps you need money, but nobody would give it to you if you just asked. Or you need the MacGuffin, but seeing as it's so valuable, no one would give it to you either except to save a member of the team. If you're The Mole, this can be used to lure the good guys into a trap as they come to rescue you. (See also the Trojan Prisoner and the Play-Along Prisoner.) Finally, some people do this for fame and attention, for the same reason some fake their death and attend the funeral to see who really cares about them.
One should choose any accomplices in the scheme very carefully, otherwise it could quickly become a real kidnapping or worse.
As this trope is a Plot Twist, there are spoilers ahead in the examples.
- The second episode of Detective Conan has him solve the kidnapping of the daughter of a bigshot company-president which starts OUT as a Faked Kidnapping designed to make her overworked father spend more time with her (she even got the good-natured Butler to help), but turns real when an actual criminal kidnaps he from the family restaurant where she'd been waiting out the fake kidnapping. It's up to Conan to save the day!
- Mobile Fighter G Gundam: Maria Louise does this with the help of Domon in order for the latter to fight George de Sand. However, George later reveals he knew about that anyways.
- Two examples happen in Mayo Chiki!.
- In the first example, Kanade and Kureha are kidnapped at an indoor pool during episode 3. However, though Subaru is afraid of the knife the kidnapper brandishes, it turns out to be a ploy by Kanade and Subaru's father (playing the kidnapper) to help her overcome her fear of knives.
- In the second example, Jiro is knocked out with a sleeping drug given to him in a bottle of water by Subaru. He then wakes up at a beach hotel next to Kanade, who explains to him that she couldn't bear to be apart from him, her "fiancee", and didn't want to go overseas with her parents, so she fled there. He is extremely annoyed at first at his unwilling role in this charade, but he later learns the truth behind why they were there; while Kanade's parents really did go overseas, if she went with them, it would have meant Subaru, as her butler, would have to go as well. Which would also mean she would miss visiting her mother's grave on the anniversary of her death.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL: Vector does this when he kidnaps Rei. In the end, it turns out that Vector was actually Rei all along and faked his own kidnapping using a clone of himself in order to trick Yuuma into falling into his trap.
- The Kindaichi Case Files plays with this trope in one case. Reika Hayami was kidnapped by a "Clown Puppet" along with her manager. Unbeknownst to her, the manager, with a help from an accomplice, plotted the whole thing to make Reika break ties with a head of film production company she was currently in (thus cancelling adoption process the two of them planned). Later subverted because it was actually the accomplice's plan as a cover to kill the manager.
- In Oliver & Company, the dogs take back Oliver, thinking he had been captured, when in fact he had been adopted by Lonely Rich Kid Penny. When Fagin sees the direction in the collar, he sends a ransom note there in order to pay off Sykes. He changes his mind when Penny arrives with her piggy bank, and simply gives Oliver back. This is followed by the all-too-real kidnapping of Penny by Sykes.
- Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island: Simone and Lena fake a breaking and entering and kidnapping. When the gang come to rescue them, it turns out to be a trap.
- In Kim Possible Movie: So the Drama, Kim's abusive boyfriend Eric stages his own kidnapping to lure her into a trap, as he's really a cold-hearted synthodrone created by Drakken.
- The Big Lebowski has the Dude and his friend Walter Sobchak do a favor for Mr. Lebowski by solving the kidnapping of his young trophy wife following Mr. Lebowski being sent her faked toe and giving the apparent kidnappers a ransom bribe. Subverted in that the poor slut did not kidnap herself but went missing for a few days while her friends sent a ransom note to take advantage of her absence.
- Excess Baggage. Emily Hope fakes her own kidnapping to get her father's attention. She handcuffs herself and puts herself in the trunk of her car, but a criminal steals the car while she's in it and the fake kidnapping turns into a real one.
- At the end of The Big Restaurant, it turns out President Novales did it.
- Year of the Gun (1991). A left wing sympathizer who's the son of a wealthy businessman allows himself to be kidnapped by the Red Brigades. Unfortunately after they stuff him in the trunk, he's killed by a carbon monoxide leak. So the Red Brigade pretend they executed him.
- This is the main plot synopsis of the film Horrible Bosses 2. But at first, it was supposed to be a real kidnapping since Nick, Kurt and Dale actually did plan on using Rex as hostage to get a $500,000 ransom. Rex fell in love with the idea of extorting money, so he added another 0 to the ransom's digits.
- In Take Me, Ray runs a business where he simulates kidnapping experiences for clients. Generally, it seems he makes arrangements with the parties in question that no one knows that they've been "kidnapped" during the eight hour experience. Then, he takes a job that lasts all weekend, and the police show up...
- There's an Ellery Queen short story where a child faked his own kidnapping to get his estranged parents back together. It worked.
- In Bitter Gold Hearts, Karl Jr.'s kidnapping looks suspiciously like this trope to Garrett when he first starts investigating it. It's a subversion: a fake kidnapping that turned real when his accomplices got scared and/or creative.
- In a variant from the Harry Dresden short story "A Restoration Of Faith", some Jerkass parents hire him to find their runaway daughter, but then turn around and tell the police that he kidnapped her, thinking to stiff him on the bill and get a juicy sob-story out of the incident, rather than let anyone know their own kid can't stand them.
- The A to Z Mysteries book "The Absent Author" revolves around the kidnapping of the eponymous mystery author. Turns out the whole thing was a hoax in order for the author to investigate how real kids solve mysteries.
- Able Team. When Carl Lyons is captured in Guatemala, the rest of Able Team follow a lead that there's an American being held hostage. He turns out to be a Poor Little Rich Kid who arranged his own kidnapping, gets shot when he reaches for a gun, and then moans that his cheapsake father sent them instead of paying up. Able Team just walk out and leave him there, telling their informant that he won't be getting his reward money as it was the wrong man.
"But didn't they have an American?"
"Yeah, but they can keep him!"
- Double, Double, Oil and Trouble: After Davidson Wylie is released by his kidnappers, the police can't decide whether it was a faked or real kidnapping — Wylie can't answer some of the questions a kidnap victim should be able to answer about his ordeal, but on the other hand he's showing physical signs of having been kept indoors and physically inactive for a long period of time. It was a fake kidnapping, but on his way to the place he'd planned to hide while "kidnapped" Wylie got into a car accident and spent weeks in a hospital.
- An episode focused on the death of a girl who'd been unfortunately involved in the fake kidnapping of another girl. They couldn't find the live girl and were warned that she was faking in an effort to gain attention from her father, but they had to find her to be sure. She turned up dead in the trunk of a car — but the kidnapping really had been fake. The death was accidental.
- Another episode had a man try to pass off his mistress' death as a kidnapping gone wrong.
- Mathnet (a segment on Square One TV parodying Dragnet): An aging diva fakes a kidnapping by an up and coming ingenue in order to revive her career. Unfortunately for the diva, the ingenue (named Eve) happens to be a friend of Kate Monday of the Mathnet squad.
- There is an episode of Yeralash, where a boy calls his little sister at home, and says (changing his voice), that the boy was kidnapped by a band. The girl, after inquiring whether he's hidden and tied up securely, asks that they don't release him until she eats all of the cake their grandma baked. The boy replies "your brother managed to escape after all, the rogue", and runs home to get his share.
- The pilot episode of Psych had this as the solution of Shawn's first case. The rich kid ran away and sent his own ransom notice, the dad found out, accidentally killed him in an argument, killed the kid's friend for witnessing it, and made it look like a murder/suicide.
- In the Law & Order episode "Snatched", the son of one of Adam Schiff's friends cooks up a faked kidnapping with a couple of other people in order to bilk $4 million out of his father. It turns out that he chose his accomplices poorly, as they try to kill him in order to not split the money three ways.
- In Law & Order: Criminal Intent, a blogger fakes her own kidnapping for money and attention.
- A more sympathetic variation occurs in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. A young boy is abducted and has never been found, so a friend of the boy's older brother agrees to pretend to be kidnapped and raped as leverage to force the police to take another look at the case. They do accomplish their objective and SVU manages to find the kidnapped boy, but the implication is that everyone involved is going to be in quite a bit of legal trouble in the days to come.
- An episode of Nestor Burma had a fake kidnapping become real.
- An episode of Kojak had a variation: The kidnapping was real but a friend of the parents' offered to pay up the ransom: It was actually a ploy by him to pay off a debt to the mob without being suspected. Things go sour when the girl sees the face of one of the goons, who then decides to kill her.
- The Tracker episode "Trust". Cole gets caught up in what appears to be the kidnapping of a rich girl. The first time, the money didn't make it to the 'kidnappers' because the fugitives landed on Earth and one of the bodies that was taken was Darius, the con man delivering the money. Nestov didn't know what to do so he went to Cole. Cole and Mel attempt to locate the girl, but they eventually discover she faked it because she was ticked her dad cut off her money supply. She ends up getting stuffed in the trunk by Cole so she can be turned in.
- In the Monk episode "Mr. Monk Gets Hypnotized," actress Sally Larkin, going through a bitter divorce, decides to kill her husband for his money, . To do so, she goes to a jewelry store to try selling some jewelry. Before she leaves, she stops and pretends to look out the window, petrified, as if she saw her husband. Covering her head with her purse, she runs back to her sports car in the rain. There, she plants evidence, like a fingernail and a piece of her coat, to make it look like she was abducted and dragged away. Sally then screams, activates the panic alarm on her car, and runs off before the store proprieters can get outside. After escaping, Sally goes to a remote cabin in the woods, and sets up evidence to make it look like her husband held her hostage: she sits on a mattress and shackles her own knees to the cabin's floorboards for most of the time to make it look like she was restrained, and she also starves herself (though keeping hydrated with water). Three days later, Sally sneaks back into her own house with a rug from the cabin. She waits for her husband to come home, and when he does, she bludgeons him with a floorboard, rolls his body up in the rug, then takes the body and rug back to the cabin in one of her husband's cars. After setting the final touches, she "reappears" by rushing out onto the road and stopping a passing car. Monk, though hypnotized, still finds evidence to prove it: while Sally was hiding in the cabin, Monk, Stottlemeyer, Natalie, and Disher had gone to her house and questioned her husband. Randy passed out pieces of his homemade Disher Mint chewing gum to the others, supposed to taste like diet blueberry. But Stottlemeyer had difficulty chewing his piece and ended up spitting it out, and it landed on top of a floor vent. When Sally came back to kill her husband, she accidentally stepped the heel of her shoe in Stottlemeyer's piece of gum while wrapping the body up in the rug.
- In the Jonathan Creek episode "Angel Hair", a woman dating a married man seemingly drops a videotape of her being kidnapped, when she obviously hasn't been, apparently having intended to stage her kidnapping later. Except it was a fake fake kidnapping, the man's wife had hooked the TV up to a live feed of the victim in a van in genuine distress, "found" the tape, and then recorded the feed while supposedly watching the tape. Unfortunately, the kidnappers got a bit carried away, leading to a continuity error when they cut off all her hair, thereby creating a mystery that led to the husband getting Jonathan involved.
- Murder, She Wrote: In "The Skinny According to Nick Cullhane", the Victim of the Week is murdered because he has written a manuscript blowing the whistle on a fake kidnapping scam.
- Shakespeare & Hathaway - Private Investigators: In "Ill Met by Moonlight", the daughter of a local aristocrat disappears (along with a priceless heirloom necklace). Although Frank and Lou initially treat this a runaway case, the girl's bloody hoodie turns up accompanied by a ransom note demanding 50,000 pounds; leaving Frank and Lou wondering if this is a genuine kidnapping or a fake. It's a fake. The girl is attempting to raise cash so she can run away and join her real father.
- In the NCIS episode "Defiance", a foreign-exchange girl fakes her own kidnapping to try to prevent her politically powerful father from signing a treaty with America. It becomes a real situation when one of her "kidnappers" kills the other one and holds her for ransom. And after she's rescued, she goes home scot-free because of "diplomatic immunity".
- Played straight at least once in Final Fantasy XII. The process isn't fake, but being that it's an arranged kidnapping, it qualifies.
- The Phantasy Star II text adventure for Eusis is based around this.
- In Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters, Luna fakes "her" own kidnapping so that "she" can lure Ratchet into "her" trap. It works.
- In Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, Master Xehanort pretends to have been captured by Braig (later known as Xigbar) to lure Terra into using his Darkness. While it ends in success, this unfortunately results in Braig losing his right eye, forcing him to wear an eyepatch indefinitely. Braig does not take this well, as Xehanort promised he wouldn't get hurt.
- Ace Attorney:
- Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth: Lance Armano did this to cover his debt to a loan company.
- Also used in case 4 of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Trials and Tribulations. Dahlia Hawthorne, Valerie Hawthorne, and Dahlia's boyfriend did this to ransom a $2 million diamond.
- The Simpsons:
- In "Burns Baby Burns", Mr. Burns' grown up son appears but proves to be a disappointment to his father, so he recruits Homer to fake his own kidnapping.
Mr. Burns (Sr.): I should have known you would be the only one stupid enough to kidnap yourself!
- Bart fakes his kidnapping in order to cover up that he had sneaked out of the house to go to a rap concert.
- In "Burns Baby Burns", Mr. Burns' grown up son appears but proves to be a disappointment to his father, so he recruits Homer to fake his own kidnapping.
- In American Dad! episode "Frannie 911" Francine pretends to kidnap Roger in an attempt to prove Stan cares about him. She is put through hell due to Roger's usual Jerkass antics and Stan doesn't seem to care, instead making extraordinary demands. Eventually he reveals that he knew it was fake all along (they have caller ID and she was calling from her cell phone) and after everything she's been through she fully understands why Stan loathes the little bastard so much.
- A variation appears in the Kim Possible episode "The Big Job". While Shego is mentoring Senor Senior Junior, they discover that several millionaires are playing poker with Senor Senior Senior, and decide to "hold them" for ransom.
- In the Batman Beyond episode "April Moon", an expert in cybernetic prostheses is forced to provide weaponized upgrades to a gang who is holding his wife hostage. It turns out that she is willingly cooperating with the gang and having an affair with the gang's leader. After the doctor learns this, the gang leader (who doesn't know that he knows) comes in for more augmentation.
- In the She-Ra and the Princesses of Power episode "Boys' Night Out", Seahawk tries to do this to himself, Bow, and Swift Wind, in order to cheer up his girlfriend (whose kingdom had been conquered by the Horde in the previous episode) and the other princesses under the logic that they "love rescuing people." He soon realizes that the people who are kidnapping them aren't the friends he hired to do the job, but instead some pirates he has a bad history with.
Seahawk: (singing) Hey, Bill, did you get taller? And... when did you get that scar? You, uh, didn't have a scar. (stops singing) ...This might not be Bill.
- The Other Wiki has a list of people who have done this for various reasons.
- In some traditions, this may actually be part of a wedding ceremony, or even what constitutes the wedding/marriage entirely. Usually, the groomsmen or the soon-to-be-in-laws will "kidnap" the bride with her and her family's knowledge.
- Joe Bonanno, boss of the Bonanno crime family from 1931 to 1968, allegedly pulled off a phony kidnapping stunt. He did this to hide from rival bosses after they got wind of his plot to eliminate them on the Commission, the American Mafia's governing body, and to become the mob's overlord. At the same time, he was facing a subpoena from the feds, who were investigating organized crime activities in the aftermath of the Valachi hearings. He was already unpopular with his peers, as aside from the attempted putsch, some of them even wondered if he was making moves on their own territories because of his greed; even his henchmen grumbled that he spent too much time in Arizona and Canada while ignoring the family rackets in New York. On October 21, 1964, Bonanno mysteriously vanished and wasn't heard again for two years. Bonanno, in a later interview, claimed that he was kidnapped in front of his lawyer's apartment at Park Avenue and was held captive in upstate New York by his cousin, Stefano Magaddino, boss of the Buffalo mob at the time. After Bonanno mysteriously vanished, the Commission named one of his capos, Gaspar DiGregorio, as successor, but this didn't bode well with Bonanno's son Bill, who was The Consigliere. This triggered an internal Mob War called the Banana Split (so-called because of Bonanno's nickname, to which he despised), but little to no action took place until a sitdown between the two factions in 1966 turned out to be an attempted hit on Bill; DiGregorio was rebuked for this and was permanently shelved. The attempted hit also forced Bonanno to come out of hiding in May 1966, when he showed up mysteriously at Foley Square, claiming he was grabbed on the street by Magaddino's men. He was indicted for failing to appear before the grand jury, but challenged it for five years until it was dismissed in 1971. The shootings intensified, and it would go on until Bonanno suffered a heart attack in mid-1968 and was forced to step down and move to Arizona, naming another of his capos, Paul Sciacca, as his successor. Although his kidnapping is now part of Mafia lore, it is certainly Blatant Lies as bosses such as Sam "the Plumber" DeCavalcante, Raymond Patriarca, Tony Accardo and Angelo Bruno were unaware of Bonanno's kidnapping stunt, while his henchmen complained that he went AWOL and didn't care about them.