So there's a guy on Oxford Street in London who's always shouting through a PA system from his shop that they're "closing down tomorrow" and all their crappy perfume is on sale. I walk past this place every day and I realised that just as he opens the shop, two people with sullen expressions turn up, say a few words to him, then stand in front of him with fake smiles pretending to offer him money for stuff. It's a typical East End wide boy scam. I know there's a word for people who do this - I'd read it somewhere but have since forgotten it. What is it?

  • 2
    Who's not upvoting the question? This is good!
    – Daniel
    Sep 11, 2011 at 23:31
  • I don't know the word for it but a related technique I've seen involves a jewellery store temporarily closing their shop doors, installing a queue line, and a product spruiker. When people think there is only a limited number of items available, and others start queuing up, they naturally get interested in what's on offer. Dec 19, 2012 at 3:18

1 Answer 1


This person is called a shill:

A shill, plant or stooge is a person who helps a person or organization without disclosing that he or she has a close relationship with that person or organization. Shill typically refers to someone who purposely gives onlookers the impression that he or she is an enthusiastic independent customer of a seller (or marketer of ideas) that he or she is secretly working for.

The Oxford English Dictionary notes that this term was first used in 1913, and is chiefly North American. Older terms to refer to these decoys from the OED include:

  • stale (now obsolete)
  • barnard
  • barnacle
  • setter
  • tumbler
  • 9
    Stooge is more common in BE, Shill is pretty much an American term
    – mgb
    Sep 11, 2011 at 20:54
  • 7
    A plant is more common in an audience, as part of a performance.
    – TRiG
    Sep 12, 2011 at 0:18
  • 1
    I walked past that very perfume shop in Oxford St. two days in a row recently. First of all, it's nearly 2014 and they're still "closing down", and funnily enough, I also saw the same woman two days in a row standing in front of the shop pretending to be a random customer getting FREE perfumes. These guys are definitely using shills to give the impression they're giving away free cosmetics, but with so many new tourists flooding Oxford St. each day, it's an ideal place to do this type of scam. Yes, "shill" is indeed the correct word.
    – user60990
    Dec 31, 2013 at 8:28

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