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Tricked into Signing

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You've got an important document you need signed, but the mark will refuse if you tell them what it is. What to do?

You lie to them about what it is, or disguise it among more innocuous papers and hand it to them while they're busy and distracted.

If they're famous, handing it to them in the middle of a busy autograph-signing session will often work. If they're extremely famous (or just extremely vain), you might not even need the busy autograph-signing session: they'll automatically autograph anything put in front of them.

It should be noted that Common Law provides certain protections against being tricked when entering an agreement. Countries who's legal system are based of of common law, such as the USA, UK, and Canada, will generally carry over these same protections. It's usually safe to presume a common law jurisdiction will not hold an individual to a contract if it can be proven that someone lied about the content of the contract, the signer lacked the ability to understand it, for example if their grasp of the language the contract was written in is too weak to fully comprehend the contract, or if someone signed the contract under duress or when too rushed to have time to actually read it.


It's not uncommon to common law jurisdictions to provide further protections against malicious contracts. For instance if a contract was clearly written in a manner to obfuscate part of the contract, such as via excessively small print that signer may not be held to that section. Similarly if a section of a contract is so blatantly one sided that it's clear the signer would not have agreed to it if they were aware of it that section may be excluded. So, for example, just because you slip a paragraph into your rental agreement saying the signer will give you all their worldly possessions and agrees to become your slave doesn't necessarily mean the court's will enforce it. Of course the exact laws and degree of protection offered vary between jurisdictions, so it's best to read any contract closely just in case.


Compare Read the Fine Print, where the person knows they are signing a contract, but do not or cannot read all of the clauses.


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  • There was an old series of advertisements for a mobile phone service where an American film star is tricked into autographing a document that basically agrees to make him a skanky woman's slave. "Get more minutes without signing your life away."

    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • In an Archie Comic, Reggie decides to write up a petition protesting litter on the beach. Archie is eager to be the first to sign it, so Reggie has him sign it with a nice and large signature before he's even drawn up the petition content. Evil-hearted Reggie then writes up a love note to an anonymous girl. With Archie's signature below it, the note is sure to unleash Betty and Veronica's wrath.
  • In one Jo, Zette and Jocko story, the two children are signing autographs after a heroic feat, when unbeknownst to them a prewritten confession saying they didn't do anything is given their signature.
  • In The Sensational She-Hulk #12, the villain uses the old "can I have your autograph?" trick to get Jen's signature on a release form allowing him to make a film of her life.
  • The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck: During Scrooge's darkest hour as a robber baron in Darkest Africa, he tricked the voodoo priest Foola Zoola into signing away his tribe's land to him for a pittance by disguising himself. Foola Zoola puts a curse on Scrooge in revenge, sending Bombie the Zombie after him.

  • Cloud Atlas has a nurse ask Timothy Cavendish to sign what he thinks is a hotel contract. The next day, he finds out that he's actually been locked in a nursing home and the papers he signed were the legal documents allowing them to keep him locked up.
  • In Double Indemnity, Walter Neff sells Mr. Dietrichson car insurance, then tricks him into signing a life insurance contract under the pretence that he needs him to sign two copies of the car insurance contract.
  • In Ernest Goes to Camp, Krader tricks the owner of Camp Kikakee, Chief Saint Cloud, into signing ownership of the camp over to him so that he can bulldoze it down.
  • In the film version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the President of the Galaxy (the vain Zaphod Beeblebrox) signed the document authorizing the destruction of Earth while thinking he was giving an autograph.
  • In the live action film adaptation of The Flintstones, Fred is given a superfluous executive position and asked to sign a bunch of bulky forms. Fred questions it at first, but he is bribed by his superior, Cliff Vandercave. Later, after the money changes Fred, he unwittingly signs requisition forms which authorize laying off his coworkers.
  • In Charlie Chaplin's satire A King in New York, an autograph request is used to trick King Shahdov into attending his hearing at the HUAC tribunal.
  • Used in The Spanish Prisoner as part of a Frame-Up. The hero is rushed to sign a club membership form which turns out to be a request for political asylum from the Republic of Venezuela. It gives away the impression that he is about to skip the country with a fortune. And the police fall for it.
  • An autograph request is used to get Eddie Cantor to sign a contract in Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943).
  • At the beginning of Thirteen Days, Kenneth O'Donnell just barely subverts this trope when his son attempts to get him to sign the latter's poor report card by pretending it's a permission slip for a school trip while Ken is hurrying through his morning routine so that he can leave to go to work at the White House. Ken manages to take a second look and realizes what it really is before berating his son for his poor grades. It's a foreshadowing of a key theme of the movie's main plot of needing to stop and look over all of the details of a situation when that situation is pressuring you into doing the standard routine which could lead to disaster, which becomes critical when the Cuban Missile Crisis sets in.

  • In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the trio need a signed permission slip from a teacher in order to check out a book from the restricted section of the library. They pick the dumbest teacher Gilderoy Lockhart to get the signature from. While they do tell him the truth that it's for checking out a book, Lockhart clearly doesn't care enough to notice which book they're checking out and happily signs it as though it were yet another autograph.
  • In Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, Cabal has one year to get 100 people to sell their souls to the Devil in order to get his own soul back and is shown tricking a miserly and greedy farmer into selling his soul by making the man think he's signing a land contract. The guy does question the reference to himself as the "Damnee", but Cabal tells his that it is antiquated legal jargon. It's noted in the text that some of the fine print in the contract indicates that signatures are valid/signees are damned even if they don't know what they are signing.
  • Attempted in the Lord Peter Wimsey novel Unnatural Death. Mary Whittaker tries to trick her great-aunt Agatha Dawson into signing a will by burying it in a bunch of other papers than need a signature - and by having two of the housemaids ready to witness the signing of the will without Agatha realizing it. However, Agatha notices the will and refuses to sign.
  • Attempted in the Timothy Zahn novel The Manta's Gift. Unfortunately for the villain, the person they try this on (in order to implicate him in a fictitious rebellion against the government) is far too clever for them and makes them look like idiots: he signs it left-handed (so the signature doesn't match his handwriting) while wearing gloves (so his fingerprints and DNA aren't on the paper) using the name of a corporate mascot instead of himself. When they try to use the "signed" paper against him without having double-checked it, they're completely discredited.
  • A spin-off book based on Revenge has Ava Winters happily married to the perfect guy who helps her with the vineyards that have been in her family for generations. He tells her of a great deal to expand the vineyards and she signs the papers for the loan needed. Too late, Ava discovers she actually gave him power of attorney to sell the vineyards to her family's long-time enemy and leave her nearly penniless. Even worse, it turns out their "marriage" was never legal in the first place and he was setting her up all this time. Needless to say, she wants payback and joins in a "school" to teach her how to get it.
  • Ascendance of a Bookworm: The fact that the only thing anyone involved in a contract really needs to do is stamp it with their blood has been abused a few times:
    • One of the characters gets tricked into making a baby she cares for sign an enslavement contract that is presented as an adoption contract.
    • The protagonist herself ends up falling for this trope, this time because the contract doesn't even look like a contract.
  • Attempted by Pennington, an Amoral Attorney who was misappropriating client funds, in Death on the Nile. Fortunately for the target, Linnet Ridgeway Doyle, she flatly refuses to sign anything she hasn't read and understood.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The "Development Arrested" episode of Arrested Development had Maeby trying to get the family to sign away their life-rights for a movie she needed to make. Lucille needed them to sign a paper promising them money if they didn't sell their shares, so Maeby just puts those papers under hers and starts offering the family money to sign.
  • In Big Time Rush, James got conned with an autograph request from his self-proclaimed "biggest fan". Then Katie did it to him again at the end of the episode.
  • The Dick Van Dyke Show: Every year Rob is coerced and/or corralled into directing and starring in the local PTA's annual fundraising show. After the show one year, which he stated would be absolutely the last time he'd do it, the president of the PTA asks for his autograph on her program to commemorate the show. He gives her the autograph, after which she announces that he'd just signed a contract to direct the next year's show.
  • Drake & Josh: In "Really Big Shrimp", Josh is tricked into signing away the creative rights to Drake's latest song. In a variation of this trope, the papers aren't disguised; Josh was given the titular shrimp which was so delicious, he wouldn't even bother to read them.
  • The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air had Will try this on Uncle Phil, sliding a receipt for a bad behaviour letter from his school in with some other paperwork. Uncle Phil was distracted by Will's fast talking, so Will got away with it... until Carlton blabbed about it.
  • One time on Hogan's Heroes Kinch had pulled the "put a blank piece of paper in a big pile of papers to sign" trick on Col. Klink, so he just happens to have a blank paper with Klink's signature for the plot du jour.
  • In the Gotham episode "Mad Gray Dawn", Eddie Nygma asks a policeman to sign a routine form at the scene of a bombing. He's actually signed a statement that he saw Jim kill Galavan, which Eddie later uses to frame Jim for the policeman's murder.
  • On Homicide: Life on the Street a courier who needs the detectives to sign for a package turns out to be a process server working with Georgia Rae Mahoney's lawsuit against the city.
  • In I, Claudius, Claudius is tricked by his freedmen into signing Messalina's death warrant. They shove a bunch of mostly innocuous papers at him while he's drunk.
  • Jonathan Creek: In "Gorgons Wood", Carla is signing copies of her new work-out video and a woman with a small child asks if she could take a picture of her with her nephew on Carla's knee. Turns out that the "nephew" is a grown man. The whole thing is distraction so she wouldn't notice that she is signing a contract allowing them to license "all forms of sexual erotica, however explicit, bearing my name, face or likeness".
  • An episode of Leverage has the heroes trick the mark into signing controlling interest of their family business by claiming it's a contract for a business deal.
  • In the "Boys at Ranch" episode of Malcolm in the Middle, the kids trick Hal into signing a permission slip to allow them to ride ATVs by passing it off as a permission slip for playing ping-pong.
  • M*A*S*H
    • In the first three seasons, Henry Blake was often tricked into signing some kind of requisition, or pass, or anything for whatever Zany Scheme Hawkeye and Trapper had cooked up.
    • Radar apparently made a habit of having Col. Potter sign blank pieces of paper, which he could then use to submit routine letters or requests without bothering Potter about them. Unusually, Potter apparently knew what he was doing and didn't mind.
  • In the Marisa Berenson episode of The Muppet Show, Miss Piggy plots to marry Kermit by casting him in a wedding skit and hiring a real priest. Her accomplice Scooter gets Kermit's signature on the marriage licence by telling him a sob story about a dear little old lady in the audience who wants his autograph for her sick grandson.
  • The Office (US) "Stress Relief": Dwight resorts to increasingly desperate tactics to get people to sign a letter of recognition that he paid due apologies for pretending there was a fire in the office, such as pretending they need to sign the paper for a delivery or need to sign in to a party.
  • Only Fools and Horses has an episode where Del tricks a pub singer into signing a contract by making it look like he's asking for an autograph (he doesn't even have to lie that much either, he just lets the singer assume it's an autograph). Ironically, towards the end of the episode, it's the singer who threatens Del with the contract to get what he wants (i.e his pay).
  • Reaper: In "My Brother's Reaper", Sam had to get a guy to sign the contract for his soul, so he slipped it in with a delivery receipt. Unfortunately for Sam, the guy knew what he was up to and signed it with an alias.
  • An episode of the sitcom Reba had Reba being fooled into signing excused absence slips by her daughter, who pretended she wanted her mother's autograph. The ruse wasn't discovered until a letter from the school arrived about how much school the daughter had been missing.
  • Turn has a variation. Capt. Ben Tallmadge needs to get a vital intelligence report sent to Gen. Washington but Gen. Scott refuses to forward it to headquarters because he does not trust the source. Ben creates a fake report that has little actual military value but which Scott will approve of and forward to Gen. Washington. He then places the real report as page three of the fake report, relying on the fact that Scott never reads the reports past the second page. Scott signs off on the fake report and adds the entire stack of papers to the official dispatches.
  • White Collar: In the "Vested Interest" episode, Neal needs to fool Peter into signing a form authorising FBI surveillance but Peter carefully reads anything before he signs it and counts the forms he has signed to check that one hasn't been slipped in. Neal secretly releases Mozzie's pet rat into the office so that everyone is distracted with the rat, Neal can swap out one of the forms Diana gave Peter for his.
  • The Oprah Winfrey Show: In a special animated segment where Oprah visits the Simpson family, Lisa gives her a piece of paper to write her autograph, but Oprah quickly realizes she's trying to get herself adopted by her. "It's nice and legal, I assure you."
  • The Daily Show with Trevor Noah: When discussing Lori Loughlin signing autographs outside her hearing Trevor proposes that the attorneys should approach her as fans looking for an autograph and then reveal she's signed a confession.
  • Blackadder Christmas Carol has Blackadder sentenced to death for not having a Christmas present. For a last request, he asks the Queen and Lord Melchett to sign a piece of paper, which turns out to be a death warrant Baldrick gave him earlier, with Melchett’s name on the “person being executed” line and the Queen’s on the authorisation line. The Queen is so impressed by his trick she decides to go ahead with the execution of Melchett and pardon Blackadder.
  • Mirai Sentai Timeranger and Power Rangers Time Force have this happen in their movie-making episode, wherein they face a Reality Warper, director-themed monster. What’s significant isn’t who signed it, but what was signed (the final page of said monster’s script, allowing the Rangers to do their own Revised Ending).
  • In one episode of Adam-12, Reed and Malloy answer a call about a business dispute that's disturbing the peace, and arrive at Honest John's Dealership, where a car dealer has tricked a customer who speaks very little English into signing a contract purchasing the car by passing it off as a waiver in case of accident during the test drive. The dealer's secretary had placed the call, and after Reed and Malloy persuade the dealer to release Mr. Diaz from the contract Reality Ensues they give the secratary a calling card for the detective bureau.
Malloy: Ask for Lieutenant Jacobs in Bunco [Division]. He'll be interested in the way Moore does business.

  • Bleak Expectations: Pip Bin gets tricked by a money lender into signing a lease with grotesquely inflated interest, fluctuating wildly and randomly in the money lender's favour, via reverse-psychology. As Pip was signing the form, the man instructed him to not sign a specific part. At which point Pip signed it.
  • In The Goon Show episode "The Policy", Grytpype-Thynne and Moriarty ask Neddie to give them his autograph on a piece of paper that's actually a will leaving them all his money. When he asks why the piece of paper has "Will" written at the top, Grytpype-Thynne explains that that's its name.
  • In the original radio version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:
    • The Frogstar Prisoner Relations Officer pretends he wants Zaphod's autograph to trick Zaphod into signing a release form agreeing to be shoved into the Total Perspective Vortex.
    • A cloning machine accident results in a large number of clones of a young woman named Lintilla. The company's clean-up plan involves an equally large number of attractive male clones and a set of "Agreements to Cease to Be" disguised as marriage certificates.

    Video Games 
  • In Day of the Tentacle there is a puzzle requiring Bernard to get Dr. Fred's signature on a contract that he refuses to sign because he's preoccupied with trying to think of a way to defeat Purple Tentacle.. One of the four possible solutions involves tricking him by claiming it's the cancellation form for a record club.
  • In the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade adventure game, you can get Hitler to autograph a travel pass that will get you past all the Nazi-controlled checkpoints later on.
  • Khimera: Destroy All Monster Girls: How Chelshia gets the Fairy Queen's Autograph:
    Fairy Queen: O-oh! What's that pad for?
    Chelshia: I need you to sign it.
    Fairy Queen: Oh? How come?
    Chelshia: Delivery. Uh... Magic... [pause] Fairy... [pause] Dust... Delivery.
    Fairy Queen: I was wondering when that would arrive! Just leave it by the door.
  • At the very beginning of Mystery Case Files: Black Crown, the Master Detective is asked by a doctor to sign some administrative papers to allow her seeing one of his patients, which she does. She should have read it, as the doctor was in cahoots with the Big Bad, the ghostly pirate Phineas Crown, and the paper was in fact a contract binding her to join the latter's crew.

    Visual Novels 
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice has this happen to Trucy in the 2nd case. A TV producer asks Trucy to sign a contract for her magic show to be televised on his network and she does so. Later on, the same producer starts demanding several million dollars in compensation because Trucy's show ended in disaster due to her being accused of murdering someone on stage and that she's responsible for it due to her signing the contract with those clauses. Apollo doesn't buy it because he knows Trucy would never sign such a contract. And he is right. The contract Trucy signed was on carbon paper, which copied her signature on a different contract behind it and she had no knowledge of it. She also didn't kill the victim. It was all done by the producer to get Trucy's life ruined due to what her grandfather did to him in the past.

  • In Bad Machinery, two of the protagonists get a bully to sign a form by telling her it's a petition to lower the drinking age.
  • In this strip of Zero Percent Discount, a magician calls for an audience volunteer, then reveals that the audience member has volunteered not for a part in the show but to do volunteer work in the community.

    Web Original 
  • There was a demotivational poster to this effect: The picture was Ronaldo giving autographs while the caption said: "During an autograph session with Polish fans, Ronaldo unexpectedly signed a life contract with Arka Gdynia."

    Western Animation 
  • In the episode "The Signature" of The Amazing World of Gumball, Richard learns that his mother is getting married to Louie and moving to Florida. To prevent this, Richard tells Louie to sign a wedding guest list that's actually adoption papers—ones that make Louie Richard's son, and thus gives him the authority to forbid Louie from seeing his fiancé anymore. Louie takes revenge by telling Richard's wife Nichole to sign school enrollment papers that make her his daughter so she has to obey the command of not seeing Richard anymore.
  • Animaniacs have an episode where the Warners are taking the place of Plotz's sick secretary. Yakko gives Plotz a few documents to sign, hiding among them a check for $80 billion. He then shouts to his brother and sister, "We're rich!" Plotz takes the check away, to which the brother merely says, "We're poor!"
  • In Buzz Lightyear of Star Command the L.G.M.s got Commander Nebula (who hates robots) to approve the creation of XR by slipping the authorization form in with their vacation requests. (It's also implied they've successfully pulled this trick more than once before.)
  • On Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines, in the episode "Home Sweet Homing Pigeon", Dick Dastardly asks Muttley, Klunk and Zilly, who are being discharged, to sign his memory book. They actually signed four-year enlistment renewals.
  • In the Donald Duck cartoon The Flying Jalopy, Don buys an airplane from an unscrupulous Honest John type who makes him sign an insurance policy, but folds the paper to hide the fact that he, not Donald, is the beneficiary.
  • In the Droopy cartoon "The Chump Champ", a competitor in a sports contest set up a fake psychic reading tent and asked for Droopy's signature to get a reading off it. Turns out he tricked Droopy into signing a document confessing to cheating and forfeiting.
  • In one episode of Fillmore!, the title character tricks Commissioner Vallejo into singing a requisition form for an expensive new set of walkie-talkies by almost knocking a lamp down on him and then confusing him with slang. It Makes Sense in Context.
  • In an episode of Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, a producer entices Bloo into signing an acting contract. However, Bloo didn't Read the Fine Print, and it turned out that he had been tricked into signing an adoption paper. The papers ended up being null and void because it wasn't run through Mr. Herriman first.
  • Gravity Falls: In "Little Dipper", Lil' Gideon tries to trick Stan into signing away the deed to the Mystery Shack by hiding it in a giant novelty sweepstakes check. Stan was onto him and signed it "Go suck a lemon, little man."
  • An early plot of Pinky and the Brain hinges on Bill Clinton believing he was signing an autograph, not signing over American land.
  • In the Rocky and Bullwinkle story line "Painting Theft", Boris uses the autograph trick to get Bullwinkle to sign a will making Boris the moose's sole heir.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Inverted in "Bart the Fink": Instead of trying to get Krusty's signature in the guise of an autograph, Bart tries to get Krusty's autograph in the guise of a signature. He gives Krusty a check, expecting that Krusty will have to endorse it with his signature, but the plan fails because Krusty endorses his checks with the name of his Cayman Islands holding corporation.
    • In "Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes", Burns discovers that Homer is sterile because of the radiation from the plant. He gets Homer to sign a liability waver and accept $2000 as compensation by telling him he's won an award and needs to sign paperwork for it (although Homer does insist on an awards ceremony).
  • In Wabbit: A Looney Tunes Production, Bugs tricks Vladimir Angelo Chafong Reginald McMurthy into signing a trade contact by pretending to be a tourist and make him autograph several things without him [Vladimir] noticing. This makes it legal for Vladimir to join the Alaskan Halibuts.
  • In Miraculous Ladybug, Chloe asks her crush/local celebrity Adrien to sign a petition against cruelty to hamsters ("Have you seen some of the sweaters they're forced to wear?") that turns out to be a plain old autograph (which he simply doesn't like signing, because he just wants to be viewed as a normal kid). Well, an autograph under a paragraph declaring Adrien's love for Chloe, which she uses to lord over his other admirers.

    Real Life 
  • Douglas Adams claimed that The BBC did this to him to get the rights to release the unfinished Doctor Who story "Shada", which he wanted buried, on home video.
  • Allegedly, this was how Elizabeth I's council finally got her to sign the order to execute Mary of Scotland, by burying the order among a stack of other papers that needed her signature. In reality, Elizabeth knew the whole time, but insisted that they make it look like this trope to try and lessen her personal culpability for Mary's death in the eyes of the world (Elizabeth always had...mixed feelings about executing a fellow monarch, especially with regard to how other nations would react to it).


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