Karmic Thieves are thieves who steal from people for selfish reasons but only steal from people who are portrayed as being unlikable. Their targets will usually be wealthy, corrupt, or more often than not both at the same time. Expect a few Kick the Dog moments just to make you really not like the victim. The target might even be a criminal himself, who made his fortune by stealing, scamming, or extorting money from the poor, the middle-class, or even sympathetic rich people.
The Karmic Thieves’ actions are "justified" because they're being done to someone who is seen as deserving it. This turns the thieves into heroes for whom the audience can cheer more easily. If the thieves are themselves poor, the story might contain implicit themes of class conflict.
A Karmic Thief will never steal from those who are poor and honest. However, unlike a thief who is Just Like Robin Hood, a Karmic Thief is not interested in charity through giving away all their ill-gotten gains to the poor (that's just a bonus). He may however be a Robin Hoodlum.
This is a Sub-Trope to Caper Rationalization. This could overlap with Stealing from Thieves if the target is also a criminal and not just a mere jerkass. Compare also to the Lovable Rogue, where the emphasis is on the likability of the thief rather than the idea that all their victims deserve their fates. See also Scoundrel Code.
- In Ashita no Nadja, Black Rose steals not just from the rich, but from rich people who are also snobbish and spoiled. (He is actually from a rich family, but left them when he was young.) Double if they are dumb enough to challenge him to steal from them, like Spoiled Brat Fernando's aunt did in public. He's also seen helping out poor people, like giving a humble widow enough money to buy medicine for her child and discussing social issues with the title heroine Nadja aside from being one of her two more important love interests... the other being his twin brother.
- Psiren from Fullmetal Alchemist (2003) stole for her own selfish reasons but only from the rich and became a celebrity in her hometown.
- The swindler band of Great Pretender under Laurent do this. Their targets include drug kingpins, other swindlers, and even human traffickers. They still steal entirely for their own benefit.
- The titular Kurosagi is a swindler who only targets other swindlers. While he occasionally helps the victims reclaim their losses, he's doing it more for his own personal revenge, and he usually collects some tidy profit for himself as well.
- In Lupin III, Lupin's schemes mostly focus on him stealing something from someone rich and powerful. It is usually obvious from the beginning that his targets are corrupt, tyrannical, or exploitative. Even when they initially seem nice or affable, they are often unveiled as evil by the end of the story.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica has one of the magical girls stealing all kinds of weaponry from the yakuza. The girl is Homura, whose time-manipulation skills don't allow her to attack directly.
- Lina Inverse of Slayers: "I stole from bandits, so that makes it all right!"
- Disney Ducks Comic Universe examples from Italian stories:
- Paperinik the Devilish Avenger, Donald Duck's superhero/anti-hero alter ego who has no problem with robbing people who, for one reason or the other, have pissed him off (in the first story, Scrooge was possibly at his most Jerkass. Paperinik stole the money-filled mattress he was sleeping on). Note there were plenty of bags of money scattered around the room, but that would be too easy and not make a point.
- Fantomius-Gentleman Thief (that's what's written on his Calling Card). Second son of an English duke, for some reason he decided to move to Duckburg, where he was exposed to the scorn of the local wealthy families (who, with the exception of the then-traveling Scrooge and his family, called him a lazy bum), and in revenge, he started robbing them of jewels and other precious art in the most showy way he could, while also giving whatever cash he grabbed along with the main target to the poor people. Finding his diary and his main hideout would be the events that motivated Donald Duck to become Paperinik.
- In Kazuma V Tanya, Kazuma primarily steals from Nobles who he knows have it coming, which aren't in particularly short supply in Scadrial. He robbed and set fire to the homes of several Nobles he saw on the street who wished to attack Vin because they were offended at the sight of a happy skaa, but he holds a particular grudge against the Tekiels after they murdered an innocent girl in front of him.
- In Pokémon Reset Bloodlines, the Black Arachnid is reimagined as this. In his drive to live up to a childhood promise he made with an Officer Jenny about both of them becoming famous, he decides to achieve Fame Through Infamy by stealing valuable items from people who deserve it and exposing them to the public. These include the curator of a museum who had ties with Team Rocket, a wealthy family patriarch who was abusive to his daughter, and a Corrupt Corporate Executive from an insurance company who denied claims from their clients.
- By Hook or By Crook: The protagonist Shy plans to rob a bank, and in an early monologue implies that he wants to steal from "all the crooks in the world, like presidents, senators, cops".
- Cousin Marv in The Drop thought he was this, stealing mob money from a bar they owned. In reality...he was being selfish and reckless.
- Cindy from Extract evolves into this by the end of the film, returning the property she stole from Joel's employees and instead boosting Amoral Attorney Joe Adler's car.
- Hawk the Slayer. Our heroes need 2000 gold pieces to ransom a nun, so they massacre a slaver gang when he refuses to generously donate to the cause.
- The band of highly-skilled hijackers and bank robbers in Michael Mann's Heat. They only target high-value targets like precious metal depositories, banks, and corporate money vans. Invoked during the bank robbery scene when Neil says, "We want to hurt nobody. We're here for the bank's money, not your money. Your money's insured by the federal government, you're not going to lose a dime. Think of your families, don't risk your life, don't try to be a hero."
- The strippers in Hustlers rob wealthy clients, especially Wall Street bankers and investors. Accordingly, the Caper Rationalization is that the strippers blame said clients for the 2007-2008 financial crisis.
- Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels:
- The crew of career criminal protagonists in Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels decides to rob the much nastier gang of thieves who happen to live next door to them to get themselves out of massive debt. Ironically, the profits they plan to steal from their neighbours are themselves being stolen from a group of drug dealers.
- Dog and his band of unpleasant thieves who're the neighbors mentioned above only steal from other criminals - mostly drug dealers. This isn't out of any moral grounds - Dog's gang are nasty people - they just find drug dealers to be easy targets.
Bacon: When they're not kicking puppies or picking the peanuts out of poo, they rip unfortunate souls off of their hard-earned drugs.
- Over the course of three films, the team from Ocean's Eleven targets two unscrupulous casino owners and a thief.
- In Serenity Mal Reynolds and crew take a job that involves stealing a corporate security payroll. It's a job hurting The Alliance from a probably corrupt corporation, so they're Jerkass Victims, but Mal has no intentions of handing out his cut to any poor person who's not on his crew. That said, for all his pretensions of ruthlessness, Mal is shown repeatedly in Firefly to have a crippling case of Chronic Hero Syndrome, so how much of it he would have ultimately kept is an open question.
- The Sting is about Con Men scamming a mobster who murdered one of their fellow con artists.
- The film Tower Heist involves a Wall Street banker who ran a Ponzi scheme being targeted by the workers in his penthouse building after their 401k accounts get frozen.
- Arsène Lupin's first theft was from a family that had been paying his mother an unfairly low wage for the work she did.
- At one point, Artemis Fowl chooses to focus his efforts solely on stealing from the wealthy and corrupt. However, he explicitly says he is not aiming to be Just Like Robin Hood.
- Ragnar Danneskjold, the (in)famous pirate of Atlas Shrugged, never attacks private vessels. He seizes government ships containing — in his point of view — plunder stolen from hard-working citizens, sells the goods for gold, and returns the gold to those he believes the government owes restitution.
- The Crimson Shadow: Oliver views himself as this, robbing rich merchants who grew wealthy from exploiting others.
- Moist von Lipwig claimed himself to be this trope, more than once. In the light of what we get to know about his career, his pretensions appear a little hollow, though.
"The worst I ever did was rob people who thought they were robbing me ... Okay, I robbed a couple of banks, well, defrauded, really, but only because they made it so easy." — Making Money
- When it comes to Moist, we can consider this trope pretty well deconstructed. A few words from Mr. Pump sum it up: "When banks fail, it is not bankers who starve." Even if you think the person or organization deserves it, robbing them is going to cause harm somewhere to an average joe who doesn't.
- Moist von Lipwig claimed himself to be this trope, more than once. In the light of what we get to know about his career, his pretensions appear a little hollow, though.
- Domino Lady steals from her targets, who are all high-profile underworld figures, donating most of the profits to charity after deducting her cut, and leaves a Calling Card with the words "Compliments of the Domino Lady".
- The Hobbit: Bilbo is hired by Gandalf and the dwarves for the express purpose of being a thief. As he's a reluctant thief caught up in schemes that go beyond him, and the dragon stole the treasure in the first place amid mass slaughter, he falls into this category. The reason he bothers keeping the One Ring is that its basic power is to make the user invisible; he doesn't otherwise much care about it at first. Of course, Tolkien cushions the blow significantly because Bilbo's primary theft is stealing a gemstone, not money, and it's from a dragon whom the audience has really no reason to sympathize with (even if they don't really agree with the dwarves' nationalist goals). Bilbo even pays the wood elf king back for the food he stole while trying to free the dwarves. This vision of Bilbo is kind of obscured for the modern audience since they know the events that are set up by Bilbo's adventures.
- In Not A Penny More, Not A Penny Less by Jeffrey Archer, a group of people who have been swindled by a con man band together to steal from him exactly the amount he took from them.
- In The Saint books, Simon Templar's income is derived from the pockets of the "ungodly" (as he terms those who live by a lesser moral code than his own), whom he is given to "socking on the boko." There are references to a "ten percent collection fee" to cover expenses when he extracts large sums from victims, the remainder being returned to the owners, given to charity, shared among Templar's colleagues, or some combination of those possibilities.
- The Stainless Steel Rat refuses to steal from anyone but rich corporations that are insured against theft, though once he is recruited by the Special Corps, he turns his skill against various villains.
- Deconstructed on an episode of Burn Notice. The villain of the week is a crook who specializes in stealing from other criminals... and to succeed in an occupation like that it means that he has to be a ruthless Manipulative Bastard/Chessmaster with a major case of Chronic Backstabbing Disorder and who has a long history of sacrificing the lives of his associates (who he treats as nothing more than pawns) in order to get what he wants.
- Autolycus from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess isn't normally this. He won't rob the poor blind, but he considers everyone else fair game, regardless of their morality. The heroes have gotten his help against certain villains and just as often interfered with one of his schemes. He will simply steal whatever valuable object he thinks he deserves, whether it belongs to a nasty warlord or a legitimate museum. However, he became a thief because of this trope. A wealthy merchant cheated his older brother out of land and later had the guy murdered for protesting. The authorities did nothing, so Autolycus reduced the merchant to absolute poverty. The up-and-coming King of Thieves then gave away the spoils to every honest citizen he came across just to further demonstrate how this was personal to him, not simply business.
- The crew from Hustle make money for themselves through conning people who earn their ire. On at least one occasion, they call off a scam after the mark reforms his character mid-way through.
- The Practice has this exchange:
Eugene: What's this embezzling thing?
Alan: Thank you for asking. It was kind of a half-Robin Hood thing, I took from the rich...
Eugene: And who'd you give it to?
Alan: I kept it. Thus the half-Robin Hood.
- The Rogues is an American television series that appeared on NBC from September 13, 1964, to April 18, 1965, starring David Niven, Charles Boyer, and Gig Young as a related trio of former conmen who could, for the right price, be persuaded to trick a very wealthy and very unscrupulous mark.
- Omar Little from The Wire steals exclusively from drug dealers and other criminals, refusing to harm or threaten anyone who isn't involved in the criminal underworld. This means that the police and the prosecutor's office are willing to work with him and overlook Omar's other crimes to take down far more dangerous drug dealers and hitmen, at least for a while. After Omar's war of attrition with the Baltimore gangs increasingly leads to collateral damage and more bodies on the street, Bunk gives him a "The Reason You Suck" Speech and is initially willing to let Omar rot in prison when he's framed for murder. Extras from the final season's DVD package show this goes all the way back to when he was a Street Urchin, as he was so disgusted by a robbery that he and his older brother Anthony took part in, (stealing a few dollars from an ordinary working man at a bus stop) that he made Anthony give the money back at gunpoint. As he says at one point:
It ain’t what you takin’, it’s who you takin’ from, ya feel me?
- Dennis Stanton in Murder, She Wrote. He doesn't steal for karmic retribution on his victims, though, but on their insurance company, which he holds responsible for his wife's death. With this in mind, one of his rules is he never steals anything with sentimental value that the insurance payout wouldn't be able to replace.
- Wild Cards (2024): Max only cons rich jerkasses, and in at least some cases does it for altruistic reasons (e.g. to steal back a domestic servant's passport, which had kept her stuck in Canada essentially as a slave).
- In The Matchmaker, the minor character Malachi has a past as a petty thief, though he says he only stole from people who didn't deserve what they had and wouldn't miss what he took. He calls it being "engaged in the redistribution of superfluities".
- Dragon Age
- Dragon Age: Origins: Slim Couldry, a possible half-elf in the Denerim Market, offers you a series of side quests pick-pocketing and/or robbing the mansions of rich nobles. He's openly enraged by the injustice of nobles living in disgusting wealth while countless commoners starve, and just as interested in getting back at them as filling his (and your) pockets. Subverted at the last stretch of the mansion-robbing quest, where he keeps his word about donating the holy relic you steal to the local Chantry so all the poor can find hope and comfort from it, not just himself or the noble who had kept it locked away.
- Dragon Age: Inquisition: Sera, a member of the Red Jennies, is this. The Inquisitor can potentially call her out on it, though she quickly convinces herself otherwise.
- The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion: In an early Thieves' Guild quest, an overzealous Imperial City Watch captain imposes a tax on the already destitute citizens of the Waterfront as an intimidation tactic. The player character steals back the money and takes the Watch's tax records to warn them that they've gone too far.
- One of the most common early-game strategies in the Mount & Blade series is to destroy bandit parties and either use the loot or sell it. One can even sell the bandits for money, if they are taken alive after being knocked unconscious with a mace.
- Most of the main plot of Persona 5 is about a group of teenagers rebelling against the corrupt adults of society by stealing their "Treasure" or Hearts, the source of their cruelty in order to force a "Change of Heart". Of course, they do so by going into their mental images of the world, donning Phantom Thief-type uniforms, and battling Shadows, which take on the form of Personas in this game.
- Sly Cooper and his gang usually steal from very dangerous criminals. In a comic book, Sly told Carmelita that he would never steal anything from plain citizens. In his case, it's partly because they're generally good guys and partly because they believe that stealing from criminals is where the true challenge lies for a master thief.
- Carmelita for her part dismisses the idea of this trope, however, because while he and his gang only steal from other thieves they're still further victimizing the people that they stole from since most of a criminal's property is already stolen to begin with.
- Garret in Thief tends to limit his thievery to the wealthy citizens of The City. But this is less because they don't deserve their wealth (though they often don't) than it is a case of Pragmatic Anti Heroism: the little folk don't tend to have enough money to make stealing from them nearly as worth Garret's while.
- While Sam Starfall of Freefall starts out just stealing indiscriminately, to the point of at one point stealing someone's wallet just on muscle memory, he eventually decides that the people who deserve to be targeted are the ones who run scams that take money from people who have almost nothing. Of course, he's been hopping from one rationalisation for his antics to another for years now, but with Character Development there is some hope that this will stick.
Sam: [Accounting] crimes tend to be indiscriminate. There is no honor in stealing from the poor. Accounting trails can lead us to who is behind the scams. Those are the individuals who deserve our personal attention.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: Katara, after stealing from pirates a rare waterbending scroll that she could not afford:
"Stealing is wrong — unless it's from pirates."
- The 2019 Continuity Reboot of Carmen Sandiego recasts Carmen as an Anti-Hero who steals to stop her former colleagues in VILE from getting their hands on various loot themselves after they proved too evil for her to handle (they're much more willing to outright kill now, for instance).
- League of Super Evil: Voltar pulls one to get Red Menace to uncuff him in an episode where they are trying to rob a bank. Smartest thing he ever did.