Alice comes home to discover a Ransacked Room, the window broken, and her laptop and all her jewelry missing. Clearly she's been the victim of a burglary and with the thief long gone, there's no chance she'll ever catch the culprit.
However, the true culprit isn't some opportunistic burglar; it is in fact Bob, who even now is pretending to console Alice for her loss. Bob only needed to steal the secrets hidden on Alice's laptop and as Alice's trusted friend, had the door key to let himself in in order to do so. However, by trashing the room, smashing the window, and taking other valuables, Bob has left enough red herrings that no one will suspect his involvement.
The faked burglary has a number of other popular uses:
- Faking a burglary in order to perpetrate insurance fraud.
- Disguising a premeditated murder by making it look as if the victim discovered a robbery in progress and the robber panicked.
- Trash the room and remove valuables to disguise the fact that something had been hidden, such as electronic surveillance or explosives.
- Trick the victim into thinking they're under threat by faking a break-in.
- Combine with a Trick-and-Follow Ploy by watching as the break-in victim immediately goes to check whether the valuable hidden item has been taken.
Even if the break-in is genuine and the valuables are kept, the key factor of this trope is that the burglary is used to mislead and misdirect somehow.
One classic method of a detective determining that the burglary is a false one is by finding pieces of glass from the broken window on the outside of the room (thereby proving that the burglar broke it from the inside) or, slightly more subtly, that the window was broken from the outside, but either after the burglary had taken place (footprints under the broken glass) or in such a way that the burglar could not have used the hole in the window to open it.
Compare Serial Killings, Specific Target.
- In a Trapper Keeper commercial, one student answers that he lost his homework after aliens ransacked his room.
- Sin City: A variation happens in That Yellow Bastard. Hartigan sees that Nancy's house has been broken into and suspects that it was the Rourke family who kidnapped her. It turns out that the whole thing was a Red Herring. Her apartment break-in was a separate crime but he ended up rushing to her job, leading the bad guys right to her.
- Dial M for Murder has burglary as a cover for an attempt at premeditated murder.
- In the Will Smith movie Enemy of the State, Reynolds' goons thrash Dean's house, both because they're looking for the hidden file (which isn't in the house at the time) and so they can place bugs in both the house and Dean's clothes without anyone questioning any inconsistencies. They also steal his blender, just because.
- In A Fish Called Wanda, Archie fakes a robbery in order to recover Wanda's necklace from his wife... unfortunately Otto catches him in the act and subdues him, thinking he's doing Archie a favor by catching the robber.
- In The Fugitive, Dr. Richard Kimble is sent to death row for killing his wife as a way of getting ahold of the insurance payout, despite insisting that a one-armed man was the killer. Late in the film, he finds out that the one-armed former cop, Sykes, was hired by his friend Dr. Charles Nichols to murder Kimble, and make it seem like a botched burglary, but Kimble was able to fight him off and call the police. However, it all worked for the best since after Kimble's wife was murdered, the police investigation made it seem like Kimble murdered his wife and sentenced him to death, while Nichols and Sykes got off scot-free.
- In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Elsa Schneider ransacks her own room as well as Indiana's, making Indiana blame an unknown third party rather than her.
- Match Point has a very dark one: protagonist Chris murders his mistress Nola, and (probably) their unborn child, by breaking into Nola's neighbour's apartment, murdering the neighbour, and then murdering Nola as if that's an accidental "collateral damage" of the breaking-in. In reality, not breaking in, and not murdering the neighbour, but murdering Nola was the real goal.
- In the last part of the Soviet movie Operation Y, a warehouse manager who has been stealing state property from the warehouse he was entrusted with hires three Loveable Rogues to fake a burglary and save him from revision inspections. Things go wrong when the student Shurik, by coincidence, talks the old lady who was supposed to stand guard that night into letting him substitute for her while she tends to her little granddaughter and dough.
- Ring of Fear: After drowning Twitchy, O'Malley fakes a break-in on his trailer so it looks like Twitchy had broken into his liquor cabinet and stolen the bottle of rum that was found at the crime scene.
- A crucial plot point in the mystery The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza by Lawrence Block.
- Used several times in the Cherub Series, either to plant bugs or retrieve information.
- In "Clubland Heroes", the murderer ransacks the room to make it look like the victim interrupted a burglar in the act and to obscure the actual theft of the paperwork that would show his motive for the murder.
- In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "The God in the Bowl", Kallian intended to open a sealed bowl, see if it contained valuables, and claim he was burglarized if there were.
- Encyclopedia Brown: The very first case in the series, in which a man accuses known burglar Natty Nat of robbing his store when he'd really spent the money and didn't want his partner to know involves this.
- Older Than Television: This trope is used in multiple variants multiple times in various Sherlock Holmes short stories.
- The Barrier: After circumstances result in an antagonistic character getting killed in self-defense in her own apartment, the two protagonists present start ransacking the place to make it look like it was a robbery that went wrong. When one of them finds something they consider worth stealing in the process, they promptly take it.
- The Brittas Empire: In "The Elephant's Child", Helen wanted to run the solarium and sauna. Unfortunately, she does not have the money to do so. To resolve this issue, she engineers a break-in of the centre with Julie so that she can take her fur coat so that she can claim it was stolen, and get insurance for it. Unfortunately for her, the plan is complicated by Julie giving birth in the centre.
- Le Bureau des Légendes: Mossad, Israel's national intelligence agency, arranges a burglary at Marina's supervisor's home so that she will use her office desktop instead of her laptop.
- Many, perhaps most Columbo villains have disguised their premeditated murders as burglaries or other crimes, usually giving themselves an apparently airtight alibi simultaneously. Columbo's first opponent, Dr. Ray Flemming in "Prescription: Murder", disguised his wife's murder as a burglary and made it look like it happened while he was out of the country. Columbo's second opponent, Leslie Williams in "Ransom for a Dead Man", murders her husband and disguises it as an elaborate fake kidnapping.
- In Community episode "Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism", Annie breaks Abed's limited ''Dark Knight'' DVD and fakes a break-in to cover up the disappearance of the DVD. It takes Abed about three seconds to work out it was an Inside Job, which he then blames on the landlord.
- Desperate Housewives: In season 5, Bree decides she wants a divorce from Orson after he becomes a kleptomaniac and indirectly causes the death of Edie Britt. However, by law Orson would be entitled to half her assets, including half the income she makes from her catering company since she started it while they were married. As a result, she hires the sleaziest divorce lawyer in town, Susan's ex-husband Karl Mayer, and they stage a fake burglary to hide her assets until the divorce is finalized. While they're staging the scene, Karl goes out of his way to do a little extra ransacking because, as he puts it, "This place has to look like it was ransacked by robbers, not someone's personal shopper." Unfortunately, Bree makes the mistake of hiding the "stolen" items in a storage unit she is renting under her own name, so not only does Orson quickly find out what really happened, the fact that he had already reported the theft to their insurance provider means he now has leverage to blackmail her by threatening to report her to the police for insurance fraud.
- Goes not quite as planned in an episode of The King of Queens. Doug and Carry want to get rid of an awful painting that was a present by the Palmers, so they tell Danny and Spence to fake-burgle their house and "steal" it. To lend the story some credibility, Spence and Danny are supposed to leave behind a chaotic mess in the Heffernans' living room. In the end, their "chaos" only consists of a couch pillow lying on the floor. Needless to say, this doesn't really serve to convince the Palmers very much.
- Burglary as a cover for premeditated murder has happened many, many times on Law & Order. Frequently a witness or beat cop will suggest "robbery gone wrong" as the motive for a crime before being shot down by the detectives. Other times the burglary is more carefully staged and provides a red herring for a good hunk of the episode. And sometimes it really was a burglar, although there will typically be more to it than a simple robbery.
- In an episode of Leverage, a diamond seller has some thieves steal a shipment of his diamonds so he can claim the insurance while selling the diamonds on the black market.
- This story is based on a probably fake story given to Wired magazine by a diamond thief where he claimed that he was an unwitting pawn in insurance fraud by several diamond merchants in Antwerp's Diamond District, the diamond capital of the world. According to his story, he only got roughly $50 million worth of diamonds while $100-400 million were reported stolen. The problem with his story is that only $15 million in insurance claims were filed. A reconstruction of this is told in the book Flawless: Inside the Largest Diamond Heist in History. Though this idea would probably work however as there is a massive amount of black market sales in the diamond business.
- Midsomer Murders: In "Drawing the Dead", the wife of one Victim of the Week discovered her husband's body and realised that her son had killed his father. She attempts to disguise the murder as a burglary gone wrong. Barnaby's "Eureka!" Moment comes when a witness describes hearing the sound of breaking glass after she heard the scream of the woman discovering the body.
- In "Mr. Monk Is The Best Man", while Captain Stottlemeyer is on the verge of getting married to TK, her maid of honor kills a former associate from her days as an eco-terrorist. However, when she's pulled over and arrested for speeding, she's forced to hide the gun in Stottlemeyer's tuxedo garment bag so it isn't discovered by the cops. Subsequently, upon being released from jail, she goes to great lengths to try and get access to the bag so she can recover and dispose of the gun, eventually resorting to making fake threats against Stottlemeyer and TK, including a staged break-in at Stottlemeyer's house, in an effort to get them to call off the wedding.
- In "Mr. Monk and the Bad Girlfriend", the killer tries breaking a pane of glass to make it look like she broke into the house where the murder happened.
- In "Mr. Monk Buys a House", Honest Jake Phillips kills his girlfriend when he realizes Monk has found out she murdered her former patient and fakes evidence of a burglary at her house, not that it does much to fool Monk.
- SMTV Live had a segment that was a parody of Bill And Ben where Ant and Dec's characters started vandalising their own homes so they could claim insurance.
- Happened a few times in CSI and spin-offs, including one Las Vegas episode where a woman had replaced a diamond in a ring with a fake and claimed the thief had swapped the stone when the jewels were returned.
- What I Like About You:
- Gary and Lauren do get robbed at the bakery, but they lie to Val about who did it so that she doesn't find out they were grifted by a girl scout. (In Gary's defense, the kid kicked his already-injured leg.)
- Another play on the trope happens when Holly and Henry borrow Val's car without permission and it vanishes. Holly does plan to tell Val about the theft, but lies about where and when. Unbeknownst to all of them, though, the car wasn't stolen; Holly had parked in a loading zone and it was towed.
- In PAYDAY 2's Election Day mission, Plan B for rigging the election is to rob a bank next door to the election center, "accidentally" damaging the machines by blowing up the wall next to them. The election results will be invalidated, and everybody will think you were just robbing a bank instead of doing some dirty political work.
- In The Boondocks episode "Thank You for Not Snitching", Ed Wuncler III and Gin Rummy break into houses in order to drum up business for Wuncler Security.
- The Simpsons:
- After Bart accidentally sets fire to the Christmas tree and destroys all of the family's presents, he claims that a burglar broke in and stole everything.
- In another episode, Moe asks Homer to "steal" his car and park it on the train tracks so that Moe can collect the insurance.
- Superman: The Animated Series: Superman's first adventure begins with the "theft" of a powered armor prototype, which turns out to be a cover for Lex Luthor conducting an illegal arms sale to Kaznia.
- In a ripoff of Guy Ritchie's crime caper Snatch., a New York City jewel merchant hired several men disguised as Hasidic Jews to stage a heist at his shop in hopes of fraudulently claiming a $7 million policy to rescue his faltering business, but his machinations prior to the robbery were captured on a surveillance system he and an employee tried to tamper with. The owner was booked for insurance fraud and grand larceny.