It's a scam where multiple people are involved, due to both the size of the con job, and the rewards involved.
Say the kidnapper calls: he has your wife, and he's asking for $2,000,000 in small, unmarked bills, or else she comes home in pieces. It's the worst day of your life, but you have no idea how bad it's going to get. You tell your best friend what's happened and he, ever the pillar of support, tells you to just give the kidnapper the ransom; bringing in the police might set him off. So the two of you drive to the arranged meeting point. Your friend offers to carry the ransom inside the abandoned warehouse, but then—just after he steps through the door—a police car passes through the area, sirens wailing. Your cellphone rings—"they'll never take me alive!"—and then the warehouse, the kidnapper, your best friend, and the ransom money are all consumed in the biggest explosion you've ever seen.
But losing your wife, your best friend and $2,000,000 isn't the worst of it. Six months later, after you've tried your hardest to forget the entire incident, you receive a letter in the mail. The only thing in the envelope is a photo of your wife, your best friend and a man in a police costume all enjoying themselves on a beach somewhere, with the briefcase containing the ransom money prominently displayed. The entire thing was a setup, down to the police car, and you fell for it hook, line and sinker.
You have just been the victim of a Massive Multiplayer Scam.
The Massive Multiplayer Scam is The Con taken to its logical extreme, engineering circumstances on a large scale in order to defraud the victim, enlist his unwitting cooperation in a larger scheme, teach him an important lesson, or simply make him suffer. These schemes are usually ridiculously complex, and often involve the cooperation of everyone who is not the intended victim.
Compare Kansas City Shuffle. And watch out, because some victims can and do fight back.
Contrast with Friendly Scheming, which is very similar in methods, but is done by true friends and loved ones for benign purposes (in the given example: you instead decide to enter the warehouse yourself and are astonished to see a surprise birthday party prepared by your wife and friend).
Examples (Warning, contains spoilers):
- In YuYu Hakusho, Genkai arranges for Yusuke to be kidnapped and has Kaito, Yanagisawa and Kido test the team with their special "territory"-based abilities, in order to prepare them for the fight against Sensui's Seven.
- Urahara in the Bleach anime similarly comes up with a plan in which three mod-souls kidnap Orihime and force Ichigo and his friends to play several games against them, like running to certain destinations, finding their way through a maze of illusions, picking out the impostor among their classmates, and saving Chad from a giant hourglass, to teach them how to work together and fight the Bounts.
- In Naruto: In a filler arc, Gennou sets paper bombs throughout all of Konoha, supposedly to detonate them to destroy the village, but it is later revealed that many of the original paper bombs were replaced with fakes in order to let Naruto and his friends have a scavenger hunt like the ones his son used to enjoy.
- In One Piece Film: Gold, the Straw Hats fall victim to one when they get lured to come to the VIP area of the casino they're in and tricked into playing a game of Craps against the owner of the boat their on, Guild Tesoro. After they end up losing (thanks to one of Guild's associates having a Devil Fruit power to steal luck), Guild reveals that everyone in the room, the workers and the guests, work for him and the whole thing was to put the Straw Hats under his debt.
- Big Fat Liar: The climax is Jason and Kaley getting every single person that Marty Wolf has pissed off during the film (and that is a lot of people) together to pull a Humiliation Conga scam on Wolf that will end with him giving an Engineered Public Confession.
- The movie of Matchstick Men is just smaller scale than the book (although the mark has less money to take). To explain, turns out that the whole plot of the film is just everybody that Roy thinks is his ally (including Angela, Roy's estranged daughter (which turns out is just acting)) pulling a con to take all of Roy's money and run (and in the final scenes, Angela tells Roy that Frank backstabbed everybody else and stole the money).
- Dirty Rotten Scoundrels: two men trying to scam a girl by way of pretending they are competing with each other to see who gets all the money... and then it turns out that the girl is an even better scammer, using them both as pawns to get money herself.
- Birthday Girl: The second act twist is that the Russian bride and her kidnappers are working together to scam her husband, and do it all the time.
- Favored by David Mamet
- House of Games features a psychiatrist getting involved in a world of con-men who sometimes perform cons that include many participants. It turns out that her entire experience with the con-men has been a giant con on her.
- State and Main: The end reveals that the first trial was actually a fake put on to allow the main character to perjure himself and regret it, allowing him to tell the truth when the real trial starts.
- The Spanish Prisoner: Everything that's gone on has been a giant con to steal a multimillion-dollar process and pin the theft on the protagonist.
- In Bombshell, an unethical studio publicity man hires a whole family of actors to perform in character in order to create a fake romance for Lola Burns, an actress who has quit Hollywood. The idea is to get her to go back to work after the fake romance ends. The Loony Fan who keeps following Lola around is also a performer hired by the publicity guy.
- The Truman Show: Everyone but Truman knows that his entire town, which he has never left since birth, is really an elaborate film set populated by actors. His parents, his teachers, his best friend, his wife: all actors in a reality TV show.
- Man on Fire. Subverted to hell and back that Pita's Dad of all people staged the kidnapping to extract the kidnap money from the insurance company to make up for his own father's massive debts. The kicker is that his lawyer, the cops and the racketeers are all either in cahoots with or backstabbing each other for the money (the man was convinced that Pita would be kept safe—only him (and, ironically, The Voice (but only out of professionalism)) actually give a shit about her welfare or survival). When it all goes wrong, the bodyguard deals with the scam by killing basically everyone.
- Duplex: Turns out that the whole film and the endless misery Mrs. Connelly had driven the couple through was a Real Estate Scam, and her son Kenneth (the man who sold the titular duplex to the couple) and Rabid Cop Officer Dan (who turns out to be not only a Dirty Cop, but Kenneth's gay lover) are in on it.
- Ocean's Eleven (the remake), in which the crew accomplishes their heist by intercepting the 911 call and posing as the SWAT team sent to break up their very own robbery.
- Inception—the twist being that it happens inside a dreamworld, and it happens multiple times in order to become more convincing.
- Wild Things - Layers upon layers of deceit, many people trying to back-stab each other. It is not until the denouement that it turns out that most of them were actually working together and just pretending to backstab each other (not to say that one or two of them didn't end up dead, though).
- Done as a subplot in True Lies. When Harry suspects his wife Helen is having an affair, he throws the resources of Omega Sector into first scamming the would-be adulterer, then into giving Helen an exciting fantasy life.
- Lars and the Real Girl has a rare positive version (albeit in a very bittersweet way): after Lars convinces himself that a sex doll is a real girl, his brother and sister-in-law take him to a therapist. The therapist tells them that revealing the truth would only damage his psyche further, so the entire town chips in to help keep the illusion going, going so far as to give the sex doll a job.
- Criminal (an English-language remake of Nine Queens) is about a veteran conman named Richard who takes on a younger partner named Rodrigo and convinces him to assist him in pulling a major con on a mark who's staying in the hotel where Richard's sister works as a concierge. The Reveal at the end is that the whole plan is really a con engineered by Rodrigo against Richard, which both the mark and the sister (whom Rodrigo is dating) are in on. The goal: to coerce Richard into giving his sister and brother the inheritance he cheated them out of. The kicker: Richard never finds out what's really going on.
- 36 Hours (1965): Just before D-Day in 1944 the Germans try to get an American intelligence officer to reveal the time and location of the landings by setting up an entire fake American military hospital and convincing him that it is 1950 and that he has had amnesia and forgotten the last six years.
- This is the big twist of the TV movie ''The Cover Girl Murders." On a remote island, Rex (Lee Majors) a ruthless and greedy magazine owner fighting a hostile takeover, gets his models together for a big issue. One by one, they're killed off as suspicions grow huge. Attacked by one model accusing him of being the killer, Rex shoots her in self-defense and his long-time aide says he'll keep it quiet in exchange for Rex signing over half the company to him. Rex does so... at which point, all the "murdered victims" walk in with smiles, revealing they're the new board of directors for the company and this whole thing has been one massive scam to get back at Rex for his behavior and also save the magazine from his mismanagement. They leave the island with Rex just sitting stunned at how this could happen.
- A rare well-intentioned instance in Ocho apellidos catalanes. Pau's grandmother, Roser, is a fervent Catalan nationalist who wants to see her region secede from Spain, so he decides to pretend it has actually happened. Since she has been an important woman in the town, Pau doesn't have much trouble getting everybody to play along. Koldo inadvertently blows the ruse during the Wedding Day sequence.
- In a variant, Killer Klowns from Outer Space has one of the local policemen, Mooney, thinking that he's being the target of one of these (that somehow is involving all of the town's residents) to drive him nuts and force him to quit being a policeman. And because of this, he absolutely refuses to believe that alien Klowns are abducting and killing people, even when his superior officer calls through the radio asking for him to request backup (he just assumes he's in on it, too). Goes without saying that the threat is real and it ends up killing him.
- House Of The Long Shadows recounts how an unsuspecting author is set up to experience a Gothic-horror-flavored suspense story by his publisher, who hires actors to pose as a Family With A Dark Secret, gathering to resolve a long-ago injustice. At least, that's what the novel the author writes in 24 hours is about.
- Happens twice in the poker film Shade:
- Small-time hustler Larry hooks up with crew Tiffany, Charlie and Vernon. The plan is to have Larry win big on Vernon's crooked deals so no one will suspect Larry of cheating. Larry gets impatient and on his own crooked deal gets $100,000 in the pot, including money that belongs to Larry's mobster boss, and loses. The whole thing turns out to be a scam by the entire game to take Larry's boss's money.
- In the film's climactic final game, Vernon is going up against legendary underground player The Dean, who he discovers is using a marked deck. In the final hand he deals the Dean Kings and Queens with one Queen in the hole and himself two Jacks with a seven in the hole. With $2,000,000 in the pot at showdown Vernon switches his hole seven for a Jack for three-of-a-kind. However, the Dean has switched out his hole King for a Queen make a higher three-of-a-kind. The next day the Dean and Vernon meet up to split the cash. The whole thing was a scheme between them to rip off Charlie and Tiffany.
- In Murder on the Orient Express, Everybody Did It, and everybody tried to conceal the murder. Except for Countess Andreyi. And Poirot, of course. Part of the reason he decides to let everybody go is because not only was the murder victim a grade-A Asshole Victim, but also because there is absolutely no way to beat the odds if the murderers decide silencing Poirot is the best way to go.
- American Gods is a scam run primarily by Odin and Loki, aka "Mr. Wednesday" and "Mr. World," and involves starting a war between all of the Old Gods and the New Gods.
- James Thurber's fairy tale "The Great Quillow" involves some townspeople who pull one of these on a giant to get him to leave their village alone.
- In The Oregon Files book The Golden Buddha, in order to free Tibet, The Corporation is hired to steal the eponymous Golden Buddha from an entrepreneur with Triad connections during a party. They end up impersonating everyone from the band, to security guards to a mercy flight helicopter pilot. The only ones who aren't involved in the con are the police and most of the guests.
- This trope is used as the plot of multiple Burn Notice episodes (because of Michael Westen's dislike to assassinate people, so he makes use of scams to make them face A Fate Worse Than Death... or get killed by other bad guys, it's also fine by him). Sometimes the Victim of the Week having been the target of one of these by Villain of the Week is the reason they come asking Michael for help.
- Leverage is entirely about the heroes doing this to untouchable business types who've victimized the client of the week; it's also pretty common for them to turn it around, setting things up so that the one person who the target assumes is scamming them is legit (and therefore pissed when the target tries to get them arrested). They also don't charge their clients a dime: walking away with a good chunk of the target's money is how they get paid. In fact, their clients usually walk away with at least a few million in cash afterwards.
- WKRP in Cincinnati does it at least twice, once to recover some nude pictures of Jennifer taken without her consent, and once to trick a visiting auditor into giving a blatantly inaccurate report on the station to Mama Carlson.
- Every episode of Hustle. (Except the one where The Mark reforms due to amnesia, and they bring the whole thing to a halt rather than scam an honest man.) note
- The April Fools episode of The Adventures of Pete & Pete involved a massive prank wherein everyone, including the bullies, were in on a prank to destroy the dreaded dental hygiene skit the principal loved so much.
- A Will & Grace episode where Grace cheats at cards. Will's friends accuse him of cheating, which leads to an intense confrontation. A teary-eyed Grace confesses, only to find out that the whole fight was staged.
- Two episodes of CSI featured criminals pulling this on the cops (with variable success).
- In "The Finger," a man murders his mistress, then sets up a fake kidnapping to make it look like someone else did it.
- In "Suckers," a casino security chief arranges a fake murder...which is a cover for the theft of a priceless antique... which is a cover for a heist from the casino's vault... which is the cover for a massive insurance scam. While the mastermind doesn't get arrested, Grissom does give all his evidence (circumstantial at best) to the insurance company. Presumably, they require less proof to deny a claim.
- A latter-season episode of M*A*S*H features B.J. betting Hawkeye that he is the greatest prankster in the 4077th's history. To prove it, he will prank every member of the main cast in the next 24 hours...with Hawkeye last. Over the next day, B.J. fells every single one of the other characters, while Hawkeye grows progressively more and more paranoid and resorts to ever-more-bizarre measures to avoid being pranked. The next morning, Hawkeye triumphantly announces that he has emerged unscathed. It is then the others reveal that all of the pranks on them were phonies. The whole thing was a set-up to drive Hawkeye nuts all along.
- In the Veronica Mars episode "Rashard and Wallace Go to White Castle", Veronica masterminds a scam like this on a basketball manager who's trying to frame Wallace for a hit-and-run, pulled by Wallace, Jackie, and a cop Veronica knows who moonlights as a security guard.
- Used a few times in The Rockford Files, but the most impressive occurrence was the two-part episode "Never Send a Boy King to do a Man's Job." To describe it wouldn't do it justice, but it involved an entire fake company, a large number of Egyptian-themed movie props, a faked auction of archeological finds, real race cars, the legendary curse of King Tut, and five faked deaths.
- On Cheers Gary managed to get the whole city of Boston to trick Sam into thinking he was dead.
- The cops on The Unusuals fall victim to two of these in a row, a fake kidnapping in "The Tape Delay" and a robbery in "The Dentist."
- In Tales from the Crypt, a man gets his wife and brother, a coroner, to help him fake his own death to collect the $500,000 insurance money. After going to South America with a small part of the money, he keeps waiting for them to join him with the rest. Eventually, what money he has runs out and he returns to find his "widow" and brother are now married and living off the rest of the money. When he tries to turn them into the police for insurance fraud, he gets arrested, convicted and sentenced to death for his own murder.
- The Doctor Who story "City of Death" takes this to ludicrous levels. The con: Count Scarlioni plans to steal the Mona Lisa from the Louvre. He's set up a silent auction among a group of unscrupulous art collectors who think they're about to get the most valuable painting in the world, and they mail in their checks. Here's how it would normally work: The thief would steal the Mona Lisa, only for the Count to refuse it. The Count gets the money, the thief goes to prison, and the art collectors eat humble pie—they can't raise a fuss at the risk of incriminating themselves. Here's how it works on Doctor Who: the six art collectors get their Mona Lisas, each of which is the genuine article, painted by daVinci himself. The Count is really an alien splintered through time, and he's been working a long con throughout human history so that he can eventually save his own species at the cost of preventing humanity from ever existing. The good Doctor saves the day by aiming to visit daVinci, missing intentionally, and writing "THIS IS A FAKE" in permanent marker on the canvases reserved for the commissioned Mona Lisa replicas.
- In the Murdoch Mysteries episode "The Murdoch Sting", Murdoch and company pull one of these to get the culprit Eva Pearce to incriminate herself in a murder, and it really is a case of all hands on deck. Brackenreid solicits the help of one Cassie Chadwick, who claims the culprit has impersonated her to get engaged to the murder victim. Constable Higgins impersonates an attorney, Dr. Grace portrays the murder victim's floozy girlfriend, and she even drags in Leslie Garland at one point when his unexpected entrance threatens to blow the whole set-up.
- Charlie's Angels had several episodes like this. One involved getting a compulsive gambler thief to lose his ill gotten gains in order to force him to steal again at a time and place of the heroes' choosing, so the police would have the evidence to arrest him. Another involved conning a conman in order to recoup his victims' money.
- The Modesty Blaise story "Take Me To Your Leader" revolves around an alien visitation — complete with flying saucer, heat rays, Missing Time incidents, and all the trimmings — witnessed by a disparate group of people under circumstances that make it unlikely any trickery could have fooled all of them. It turns out that it's an elaborate con aimed at one man, a respected scientist with the ear of the British government, and everybody else present for the incident is in on it. After uncovering the truth, Modesty remarks that it's possibly the one explanation even less likely than it actually being aliens.
- "Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig's eponymous "Perfect Hoax" back in 1996. For weeks, he stole Triple H's valets and caused him to lose numerous matches because of the subsequent distractions. Finally getting fed up with it, Triple H challenged the retired Hennig to a match; Hennig accepted. However, on the night of the match during an episode of RAW, Triple H ambushed Hennig backstage before the match and seemingly injured his knee, preventing him from continuing. Then-Intercontinental Champion "Wild Man" Marc Mero decided to fight Triple H in Hennig's place, putting his title on the line. In the match's climax, Triple H attempted to cheat using a steel chair, but Hennig ran in for the save and took the chair from Triple H... only to wallop Mero with the chair, allowing Triple H to pin him for the title. Afterwards, the duo revealed that the entire debacle was a plan to put the title on Triple H (and return him to a prominent stature within the company), while embarrassing Mero for stealing Sable from Triple H.
- Mr. Perfect was a point man for another one just four years prior. He and Ric Flair orchestrated a plot to get the WWF Title back to Flair starting at Summerslam 92. Randy Savage and the Ultimate Warrior were both fan favorites, but also accused of selling out to Team Flair. Both Flair and Perfect liberally attacked both the challenger (Warrior) and the WWF Champion (Savage) during the match. Warrior won when Team Flair jumped the champion on the outside, but only by countout, meaning Savage was still the champion. Flair beat the Macho Man shortly after this to win the WWF title for the second time.
- This happened a lot to Sting in his WCW run, often at the hands of Ric Flair and The Four Horsemen or Lex Luger. Perhaps the most famous example occurred in an angle involving our hero and Flair in 1995. Flair lost a match to Arn Anderson at Fall Brawl due to interference from Brian Pillman, and spent the next month trying to convince an extremely wary Sting to be his partner against the duo for Halloween Havoc. After weeks of vehement refusal, Flair finally got Sting to relent, but not before the latter threatened to mess up the former real good if he got screwed. Before the match, Anderson and Pillman ambushed and seemingly injured Flair, forcing Sting to face the heels by himself. However, in the middle of the match, as Sting was getting his ass kicked, Flair appeared to the roar of the crowd and took his place at Sting's corner. Sting played Ricky Morton for a long time, getting closer and closer to making the tag to Flair each time. When he finally made the tag, the arena went nuts, and Flair looked prepared to kill Arn and Pillman...and then proceeded to immediately lay out Sting, revealing that the entire incident was a set up to re-form The Four Horsemen and humiliate Sting.
- It got so bad that in one match it was lampshaded when Sting gave Flair's valet Elizabeth a can of mace to use in case any of the heels tried to make a move on her. Predictably, she turned around and used the mace on Sting later in the match—only it wasn't mace, it was silly string! This was the only time Sting ever managed to outsmart someone.
- Ace Attorney:
- Case 4 of Trials and Tribulations is about how a cop's sister is kidnapped by her boyfriend, asking for a ransom of an expensive diamond of their father's at a mountain river. It was all staged in order to sell the diamond and split the millions of dollars amongst themselves. However, all of THAT was a scam; the sister planned this all along and jumped into a river with the diamond, keeping it for herself. (Until it was lost in the river, leaving her with nothing but a criminal background and a lot of karma to hit her over the head later.)
- In case 2 of Spirit of Justice, Roger Retinz plots to pull a hidden camera "prank" on Trucy's first televised appearance with Mr. Reus and Bonny and Betty de Famme by tricking Trucy into thinking she had accidentally killed Reus. Like the previous example, it turns out to be an elaborate scheme by Roger to kill Mr. Reus and pin the blame on Trucy that none of the other characters are aware of. He gets bonus points for managing to convince Betty that the "prank" was all her idea.
- In The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt's Blood and Wine expansion, the killer of the knights turns out to be a Higher Vampire acting under the understanding that someone had his former lover and was going to torture her to death, the blackmailer in question being an exiled noble with a grudge. Of course, the blackmailer and his lover turn out to be one and the same.
- The other unicorns do this to Charlie in Charlie the Unicorn. They take him on a huge adventure to Candy Mountain... Only to knock him out and take his kidney. The second one takes him on another huge adventure to return the Magical Amulet to the Banana King... and they rob him. The third one (Yeah, he's that smart) takes them under the deep blue sea to help them with a... snowman... and they take his horn. But they did give back his kidney.
- The Simpsons:
Homer: I can't believe everyone was in on it!
- An episode involved Bart and Homer working as con artists. Grandpa Simpson pretended to help them, but secretly lured them into a trap where they were arrested by a government agent who robbed them and turned out to be a con artist. Bart and Homer made up a story to explain the robbery, which inadvertently led to Willie being arrested, put on trial, found guilty, and given a long prison sentence. Out of desperation, Willie steals a bailiff's gun and starts shooting. When Skinner is apparently killednote ), Homer finally confesses, only for everyone else to admit their deception, down to the judge revealing himself to be Grandpa in a mask and wig. It turns out the whole town was working together to teach them a lesson.
- Another episode featured Homer and Marge being framed for murder as contestants of a Reality Show. Even the police are deceived.
- One episode parodies State and Main's final scene where a fake trial is put on to allow Homer the opportunity to realize that he'd regret it if he lied during the real trial. When Homer expresses his incredulity, Lisa agrees that the massive con was pretty implausible.
- In a somewhat troperrific episode of Batman Beyond, a surgeon specializing in cybernetic prosthetic limbs is coerced into providing some punks with weaponized cybernetic enhancements because they've kidnapped his girlfriend. Of course, the girlfriend was working with the gang all along, and the whole thing was probably her idea. The doctor eventually finds out, but the gang's leader doesn't realize he knows, and comes to the doctor for repairs one last time...
- Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated; in the episode "Wrath of the Krampus", Mystery Inc, with a little help from several others, including Hot Dog Water, Jason Wyatt and former mayor Fred Jones Sr, created the hoax of the Krampus to distract Mr. E and his allies so they could acquire Mr. E's segments of the Planispheric Disc.
- On the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "28 Pranks Later" Pinkie Pie gets the whole town to help her pull a huge prank on Rainbow Dash by making her believe that they all became zombies from the joke cookies she gave out.
- Parodied on American Dad!. When Bullock is finally enough of an ass that Stan assaults him, and comes within a hair's breadth of shooting him, Bullock weasels out of it by claiming everything that happened in the episode was a Secret Test of Character, with all the other character's helping him pull off an elaborate charade to see if Stan would be able to stand up for himself. He's clearly pulling this out of his ass, but if it doesn't convince Stan, it at least befuddles him long enough for Bullock to make his exit.
- In Sally Bollywood, "Fangs A Lot", one of the students, Lee, gets fed up with the pranks of a local bully named Bob. So he stages an elaborate one with other students to make Bob think that Lee's a vampire and turning the others. Sally and Doowee are brought in to investigate at Bob's behest, Sally eventually finds out herself what Lee is doing and joins in by making it seem Lee had gotten to her sometime before a rendezvous with Doowee and Bob. Doowee catches on what's happening and instantly helps as well by acting along to Sally "feeding" on him and "turning" into a vampire himself.
- 419Eater is a website that deals exclusively with getting back at those infamous Nigerian scammers that we've all gotten emails from. It leads on the scammers into thinking that they will be getting the money they asked for, often leading into ridiculous situations. They sometimes con the scammers into posing for pictures to ensure that the money will be sent; these photos are then used for banners on the website and posted in galleries. Sometimes they even manage to get money from the scammers themselves, which is then donated to charity. These scams frequently end with the untimely 'death' of the would-be 'sucker'.
- The pictures are often humiliating, degrading, and frankly ridiculous. One particularly extreme example is a naked man standing on two chairs, with a laptop suspended from his sensitive bits, while holding two torches and a sign (taped to his chest) proclaiming how serious he is.
- Another 419Eater staple is the "safari", in which the would-be scammer is convinced that due to a mix-up at the Western Union Your Money Is In Another City. Cue a wild goose chase of hundreds of miles.
- Equally amusing would be the P-P-P-Powerbook prank, which involved an eBay scammer being shipped a binder covered in glued-on keyboard keys, and paying about 600 dollars for it to boot.