Stealing is illegal, but that doesn't stop some people from doing it. However, sometimes a person thinks another person stole something and they're wrong.
The item could be a piece of food, a valuable item, money, something the accuser really likes, or anything else, but the result is the same: it goes missing and somebody believes that one person in particular stole it.
That person could be suspected for a variety of reasons: maybe they have been known for doing questionable acts in the past, maybe they really do steal sometimes, or someone said that they did it (but lied), if it's food, maybe they're a Big Eater or they like the food in question (maybe it's even their Trademark Favorite Food, but a character can like a food without it being trademark). Maybe they don't get along with the item's owner or they really wanted the item, or maybe they were seen with evidence (for example, they had crumbs near them if it was food, were holding an item similar to the missing one, or were seen holding the missing item but were actually trying to put it back), or the accuser thinks the actual perpetrator is too cute to steal. Or the accused could be the victim of some form of prejudice, like racism. Sometimes, even, the person who suspects the other person thinks the real perp doesn't even exist!
Usually, the item will turn out to either have been stolen by someone else or not stolen at all. If it wasn't stolen at all, it might have been accidentally knocked over by a person, animal or the wind or someone might have accidentally thrown it out or forgotten where they put it. Alternatively, the person suspected of theft was in possession of it, but they'd only meant to borrow it (and borrowing something without asking, while inadvisable, is still not stealing if you return it). Sometimes, someone took it but for a relatively good reason and were planning to return it (for example, a teacher confiscated a student's toy but that was only because toys weren't allowed in class, or someone took a piece of clothing but only because they wanted to wash it.)
If it was stolen, it could have been an animal like a dog or a bird (sometimes a Thieving Magpie), or in some cases, a monkey who stole it. If the thief was a human, they might have been trying to frame the wrongly-suspected person, especially if they're the wrongly-suspected person's rival, but sometimes they just wanted the item and feel bad when they get caught.
If the wrongly-suspected person tries to say that they didn't steal, the accuser likely won't believe them, although there will often be one, two, or several people who are usually close friends of the false suspect and/or know that the person wouldn't do it and they usually try to help the person prove they didn't steal it.
- In Tamagotchi! Yume Kira Dream episode 4, Ikaritchi notices his wood-carving tool has disappeared and snaps at Mametchi for it, thinking he's the culprit. Yumemitchi and Kiraritchi use their Yume Kira bags to transform into fisherwomen and catch the true perpetrator of the crime. As it turns out, the tool was never actually stolen and Ikaritchi had just misplaced it.
- At the beginning of the Lamput episode "Origins", Lamput shapeshifts into a crown and hides behind the window of a jewelry shop to get away from the docs, who promptly notice and make a run into the store to grab him. Then the window's glass breaks, and the resulting scene makes it look like the docs just robbed the shop. Cue police car.
- In the Simple Samosa episode "Chutney Dam", Samosa and his friends are blamed for the mysterious disappearance of Chatpata Nagar's chutney supply. The townsfolk are technically not that far off, since Dhokla absorbed it all - but even then it was still an accident.
- The Hair Bear Bunch #9 (Gold Key): The issue's second story, "The Zoo Food Phantom," had Square Bear accusing Bubi of raiding the bears' refrigerator overnight when a masked figure, whom Bubi tried to stop, did.
- Tintin: In "The Castafiore Emerald", the opera singer's precious emerald and a pair of gold scissors go missing and Thompson and Thomson mainly think a group of nomads who are camping nearby took them but they also suspect the singer's maid and Captain Haddock's butler. It turns out to have been a magpie who took them.
- Watchmen: Zigzagged. When Ozymandius, and The Comedian first met, the Comedian beats up Ozymandius and claims it's because he mistook him for a burglar, but it's implied that he actually knew who Ozymandius was, he just lied because he wanted an excuse to beat him up, because Comedian didn't like Ozymandius.
- In Flushed Away, Rita lies that Roddy stole the ruby from her and was an international jewel thief. The villains believe her and spread the lie to other people, including Rita's brother.
- Hang 'Em High: The whole reason for the plot is the main character (a guy named Jed Cooper who used to be a lawman but became a cattle wrangler) was the last man known to have been with another cattle wrangler (who was murdered and had his cattle stolen after Jed bought some cows) and so was accused of the theft by a group of vigilantes. He gave the posse evidence but they weren't satisfied so they hanged him from a tree. Luckily, he survived the hanging and eventually got even with both them and the real thief.
- One saying that's particularly common in the military: "There is only one thief in the army; the others are just trying to get their stuff back". In case you don't know, it's implying that the one thief steals from several people. A few of those people see other people with stuff they think is theirs and, believing those people to be the thieves, inadvertently steal from them, possibly leading to a repeat of the situation.
- Baby Sitters Club: One mystery involves a client accusing Stacey of stealing a diamond ring. It turns out that a cat had accidentally knocked it under the carpet.
- Clarice Bean: In "Utterly Me", the trophy for a competition goes missing and Mrs Wilberton thinks Karl Wrenbury stole it, but Clarice Bean and Betty Moody know he didn't do it because he said so and Karl always boasts about naughty things he's done, so they play detective to figure out what really happened to the cup. Clarice, during her investigation, suspects Mrs Wilberton, Toby Hawkling (another prankster, but he usually only pranks with Karl) and Grace Grappelo, who didn't steal it either. It turned out to only have been taken to be cleaned.
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid:
- In "Rodrick Rules", Mrs Craig(the English teacher)'s dictionary goes missing and some bullies think that Corey Lamb and Peter Lynn (two verbose boys) stole it. It turns out that it wasn't stolen, Alex Aruda had simply been using it to study.
- In "The Long Haul", the Heffleys cannot find their luggage while at the pool and believe that another family (which Greg nicknames "the Beardos" because the father has a beard) took it. It turns out that they just opened the wrong locker.
- Gangsta Granny: Invoked. Granny deliberately lies to Ben that she's an international jewel thief so that he'd think she was cool. She did not, however, intend for her Nosy Neighbor to overhear and start believing it too.
- Holes: Stanley Yelnats is sent to a juvenile correction camp because he caught a falling pair of sneakers and everyone else thought he stole them.
- Not in the book itself, but in adaptations of A Little Princess, people often discover things secretly hidden in Sara's room and assume she stole them.
- In one of the Magic Kitten books, the girl Eve thinks she sees her friend Allison stealing the sacks of cat kibble, but really she is trying to frame her little brother Darren because she's mad at them, and she's not stealing them, she wants them to get wet in the rain. Of course, she didn't consider the cats.
- Precious And The Monkeys: When two of Precious's classmates have their lunches taken by monkeys, they believe Poloco (another classmate) did it because he's kind of fat and they believe the "fat people eat a lot" stereotype. Precious sets out to clear Poloco's name and prove the monkeys did it.
- In So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, Arthur tells Fenchurch a story about how he thought a man in a station waiting room was taking his biscuits, but really the man was eating from an identical packet of biscuits and Arthur had in fact accidentally stolen the man's biscuits. The author, Douglas Adams, claims that it was based off something that happened to him in real life, but variations on it have been an Urban Legend since before the book was written.
- In the Warrior Cats book A Dangerous Path, ThunderClan finds evidence of prey being killed on their territory. Bluestar assumes it's being stolen by WindClan (to the point of accusing them publicly at a Gathering), due to her paranoia/dementia and the fact that one particular example of the prey was the remains a rabbit found on that end of the territory. Fireheart knows that it's likely a dog catching the prey due to other evidence, and arranges for Bluestar to meet with WindClan's leader to discuss it before she can lead an attack on them.
- In A Yellow Raft In Blue Water, Rayona mistakes her mother Christine for a thief trying to break into their car since she sees her mother wearing a candy-striper uniform that was stolen from the Indian Health Service hospital since she had no intention of staying in the hospital and was going to drive off to kill herself. Rayona attacks her by whacking her in the ass, and they both get knocked over when the car door opens and her mother turns to confront her attacker when she sees that it is Rayona.
- Frasier: Bulldog has a habit of ranting about people stealing his things but then finding them.
- House of Anubis: In "Touchstone of Ra", the students go to an Ancient Egyptian themed museum, where an artifact gets stolen, put in Eddie's bag, and confiscated by the teachers. In reality, a girl named Sophia was the culprit but she and Eddie were friends so Eddie blames Dexter because the latter liked the object. Only Patricia, who doesn't like Sophia, takes Dexter's side.
- New Tricks: In one episode, a group of homeless people think Brian stole his coat from a friend of theirs. They knock him out and steal the coat but Brian manages to get it back from the friend. However, the coat had gotten smelly so Brian's wife had burned it and he buys an identical coat from a charity shop, but it smells like his old one.
- Sesame Street:
- Zigzagged in one "Ernie and Bert" skit. Bert finds cake crumbs on Ernie's plate, a piece of cake missing, and Ernie holding a fork so he presumes Ernie took it. Ernie makes up a story about a monster shaking the crumbs off the piece of cake and eating it, then giving Ernie the fork but then admits that he ate the cake. However, a monster shows up and does exactly what Ernie said with the second piece of cake.
- In one "Ernie and Bert" skit, Cookie Monster takes some cookies, but he was dressed as Ernie, so Bert thinks Ernie did it.
- In The Singing Bell, Inspector Davenport is talking about the risks of using a Mind Probe without enough solid evidence and mentions that recently, a bank cashier had to be paid a compensation because of being probed for suspicions of theft, when the evidence was actually because he'd had a fling with a married woman.
- That '70s Show: In the episode "Eric's Stash", Eric's (not-so) secret pile of money was taken from its hiding spot, resulting in him accusing several of his friends of stealing it, including Hyde, which everyone else points out as absurd. As it turns out, Red took the money in order to pay for a water heater, which he fully intended to pay back before Eric noticed.
- In the That's So Raven episode "Country Cousins", Raven and her friend Chelsea visit some of Raven's relatives in the country to mend a feud that started with everyone thinking her father stole a precious gravy boat. It turns out that what really happened was that Raven and her cousin Betty Jane buried it as little kids.
- In the Worzel Gummidge episode "Very Good Worzel", Aunt Sally eats a plate of cocktail sausages and lies that Worzel did.
- Zoey 101: In "Fake Roommate", the girls find items missing and each one thinks the other took them but it turns out that their kleptomaniac dorm adviser took them.
- In Latinamerica, the sitcom El Chavo del ocho comes to mind. In some sketches, El Chavo is accused of robbery and forced to leave the vecinidad because some of his neighbors' items, like irons and dishes, appear inside his barrel (put there by the real thief). In the end, everything ends well, but considering the sitcom is a comedy, it drives the show in a dark and sad territory to touch the audience about poverty and injustice.
- Songdrops: In the song "My Pet Monster", said pet monster eats the last piece of pie and everyone else thinks the narrator did it because the monster is invisible except on Halloween and everyone else thinks he doesn't exist.
- In BoxxyQuest: The Gathering Storm, Catie picks up a strange crystal at the start of Chapter 4, and then gets arrested when a guard sees her with it. It turns out the crystals are the citys power supply, and theyve been mysteriously going missing for a while. The chapter then involves breaking out of prison and clearing Caties name by finding out who the real thief is.
- In Epic Battle Fantasy, the fourth game has Anna think that Matt and his party stole the Greenwood Jewel, but they didn't. In actual fact, some cats stole it so that they could summon Catgod.
- Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas: Big Smoke mistakes CJ for a burglar at his home during his introductory cutscene, which leads to the memorable "YOU PICKED THE WRONG HOUSE FOO'!" exchange.
- Kingdom Hearts χ: At one point, during the Agrabah segments, four coins are stolen and Aladdin is the suspected thief. The player character believes Aladdin to be innocent and tries to prove it. As it turns out, he is indeed innocent, but because he actually does sometimes steal, he asks you to turn the coins in and clear his name.
- In King's Quest VI, Alexander travels to the Green Isles, during which the population of each island believes the population of another stole something precious from them, which caused so much animosity that the ferry lines went out of business and the islands were isolated from one another. Alexander discovers that the real perpetrator was a villain named Abdul Alhazred, and he stole them to intentionally create discord so that he could become king of the nation.
- In Kirby: Squeak Squad, Kirby's strawberry shortcake gets stolen. He thinks Dedede (who has stolen all the food in Dream Land before) did it, but then gets distracted by a bunch of thieving mice called the Squeak Squad. It's unknown if they did it or not, but Dedede is innocent.
- One of the side effects in Mass Effect 2 involves Shepard helping a quarian girl who'd been accused of stealing a volus's credit chip when said volus had actually just left it in a shop. The volus concocts an increasingly elaborate (and wildly impossible) tale about how she pick pocketed him before you clear her, then refuses to apologize afterword, potentially leading to Shepard delivering an ear-blistering dressing down for his behavior.
- Subverted in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Trials and tribulations: Phoenix Wrigth has to cooperate with Luke Atmey, a detective wannabe, in a case of robbery against his archnemesis Mask☆De Masque (which identity is the claim of Phoenix client, Ron De Lite). But happens to be Luke Atmey himself the real culprit of the robbery, to have an alibi to his real crime, murdering his own blackmailer. This cleared Ron De Lite of his crime of robbery, but he is in fact the real Mask☆De Masque, now free to go due to a Double Jeopardy law.
- One of the objectives in Untitled Goose Game is to get someone to buy back their own stuff. If you steal the toy plane from the young boy and put it on a shelf in the shopkeeper's store, the boy will run in after you, pick it up and walk away with it, only for the shopkeeper to stop him, berate him, and force him to pay for it.
- In Lincoln Loud's Treehouse Mystery, an episode of an official "podcast" based on The Loud House, Lincoln Loud and Clyde McBride's hammock goes missing. Lincoln is suspicious of all his sisters, but especially Lynn because she once stole the batteries from the TV remote, Lana because she once stole his macaroni and cheese, and Lola because she's a bit of a brat and admitted to hiding her vegetables. It turned out that the real thief was Mr. Grouse, the cranky neighbor.
- In one of the true stories in Planet Dolan, a boy (played by Ghost Toast) steals the teacher's $100. The janitor is caught with exactly that much money, which unfortunately gets him fired because it's thought to be the teacher's money.
- On Snopes, there are several articles where someone sees another person with an item they mistake for theirs.
- In Death Battle, this is how "Danny Phantom vs. American Dragon: Jake Long" starts. Danny is in a museum late at night using his ghost intangibility to put back a stolen artifact where it belongs, and Jake ends up mistaking him for the one who stole it.
- In an episode of Alvin and the Chipmunks, Alvin thinks a card called the Pink Rose was stolen by a criminal called the Shadow Thief, but it turned out that the Shadow Thief had already been caught and the card was under his bed.
- In "Arthur, World's Greatest Gleeper", one of the bullies says that "I bet [Arthur] hasn't even gleeped anything!". Buster, in order to make Arthur seem cool, says, "That's not true! He's gleeped lots of stuff!" without knowing that "gleep" is slang for "steal", which makes everybody think that Arthur is a thief.
- In "Cereal", D.W.'s box of cereal goes missing and because Arthur happens to be eating cereal that morning, she thinks he took it. It turns out that Pal the dog took it.
- In the Bojack Horseman episode "Int. Sub", Todd becomes falsely convinced that Princess Carolyn stole his string cheese and as a result, he nearly forces her into arbitration.
- In the pilot for Darkwing Duck, Darkwing is accused of being responsible for a train robbery that was actually caused by a villain named Taurus Bulba.
- The Fairly OddParents had an episode based on this when Timmy gets accused of shoplifting since he can't explain where he got everything he wished for.
- Hey Arnold!: In "Bag of Money", Arnold, Gerald, and Sid find a paper bag full of money and consider sharing it among themselves. However, Arnold gets the bag mixed up with three identical bags belonging to an old lady on the bus and when he comes back with a bag of birdseed, Sid thinks that Arnold stole the money so he could keep it all.
- Jackie Chan Adventures: In "The J-Team", Jade puts together the eponymous team comprised of characters Jackie previous encountered, one of whom is Mexican lucha wrestler El Toro Fuerte. Uncle thinks El Toro is a thief because he is wearing his trademark mask. When Jackie tried to correct him, he smacks him, thinking he's saying the wrong thing about him.
Jackie: Uncle, he is no thief. He's...(Uncle smacks him)Uncle: Of course he is a thief! He's wearing a mask!
Jackie: Viper? ([attempting to kick her out] No thieves allowed at Uncle's...(Uncle smacks him)Uncle: How can she be the thief? She's not wearing a mask and wrecking my store!
- And then, it's inverted when Viper enters the shop and Jackie, recognizing her profession (before she said she isn't a thief anymore), attempts to kick her out, only for Uncle to smack him again as if he thinks he's doing the wrong thing with her.
- Little Princess:
- In "I Want My Crayons", the Princess's crayons get knocked under an armchair but Princess thinks someone took them. She suspects everyone except the King and the pets, which greatly offends them, especially the General.
- In "But They're Mine!", the King and Queen take some of the Princess's clothes and the Princess thinks that they stole them, but actually they were intending to give them away to her little cousins and the Princess hadn't realized she had outgrown them. Later, Scruff takes some and Puss tries to give them back but Princess calls him bad because she thinks he stole them.
- In "I Want to Be a Detective", Scruff eats some biscuits the Princess made and she thinks Puss did it.
- In an episode of The Looney Tunes Show, Daffy thinks someone in town stole his newspaper but really he'd just forgotten to renew his subscription.
- Martha Speaks:
- In "Martha Takes the Cake", part of Alice Boxwood's birthday cake gets eaten and Martha is thought to have done it because there are crumbs next to her. Actually, Nelson did it, although we never find out how the crumbs got there.
- "Martha and the Thief of Hearts", the kids' Valentines go missing and each kid thinks one of the other kids did it. It turned out Skits did it for attention.
- In "The Dog Who Came to Dinner", Francois takes some cupcakes and the Lorraines think Martha took them.
- Milly Molly: In "B. B. Brown", Humphrey thinks B. B. Brown stole his toy. It was understandable, since up until recently, B. B. Brown had been a kleptomaniac, but it wasn't him.
- Peg + Cat: In "The Cleopatra Problem", Peg's marble gets taken and Epidermis the camel disappears. Peg, Cat, and Cleopatra think that the Pig stole the marble and camel because he was nearby at the time, but it turned out that Epidermis took the marble and ran away.
- Postman Pat: In "The Stolen Strawberries", strawberries have been disappearing off the plants. When some strawberry leaves are seen next to Jess the cat, P.C. Selby thinks Jess did it and wants to arrest him, even though Jess is a cat. It turns out that the real thieves were some birds.
- In "Tricycle Thief", the Rugrats think Angelica stole Susie's trike, but she didn't.
- In "Angelica Nose Best", Angelica eats some chocolate and claims Fluffy did it, which her mother Charlotte buys and locks Fluffy in her cat cage as punishment.
- Spongebob Squarepants:
- In "The Pink Purloiner", Spongebob thinks Patrick stole his jellyfishing net. It turned out that he left it on the bus (and according to the driver, that scenario had happened before).
- In "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?", Mr. Krabs thinks Squidward stole his #1 Dime and so Squidward quits his job and moves in with Spongebob. As it turns out, the dime was in Mr. Krabs's back pocket but they start another argument when Squidward returns to work because Mr. Krabs believes Squidward put the dime in his pocket.
- Stōked: A thieving seagull causes Reef to be suspected of being a thief in "To Catch a Reef".
- In the Wacky Races reboot, Dick Dastardly sets out to prove he can win a race without cheating. When unwarranted obstacles suddenly confront the racers, everyone assumes Dastardly is responsible. He vehemently pleads his innocence and is proven right—the obstacles were the work of some ornery penguins.