Extortion — what is it? This white-collar crime is as complex as you might expect. So here is everything you need to know about it. 

What Constitutes Extortion?

Extortion is a term used to describe attempts to gain money, property, or other valuable assets through intimidation or coercion. This includes threats of violence to a person or property. Common threats include inflicting injury, disclosing damaging information or secrets, or damaging someone either financially or physically. You’ve probably seen examples of extortion in TV shows and movies. One example that Hollywood loves to use is the typical bad guy demanding “protection money” from people in their neighborhood. 

The Crime of Extortion

Certain criteria must be met for an act to be considered extortion. Since extortion is regulated at the state level in the United States, the exact requirements can differ from state to state. Generally, these three things will lead to an extortion charge: 

  • Threatening a victim
  • Using the threat as leverage to make the victim fulfill their requests (the perpetrator may ask for money, influence, property, information, or other valuable assets) 
  • The victim agreed to fulfill their part of the “deal,” mostly because they are afraid and intimidated 

While all of this might sound similar to blackmail, there are a couple of major differences between these two terms. Mainly, blackmail is focused on revealing financially or socially damaging info about the target. On the other hand, extortion covers all types of threats regardless of their nature.

Is It Legal?

No. Extortion is illegal in all fifty states, and it’s classified as a Class B felony. The punishment may vary from state to state, but it can include a fine ($10,000 or higher) and up to 25 years in prison. The perpetrator might need to pay restitution to the victim, especially in cases when the victim lost valuable property. Other punishments include incarceration and probation based on the severity of the crime. Punishments vary from case to case and from state to state, though.

Examples of Extortion

There are many different types of extortion. For example, the perpetrator might threaten to harm the victim or their family members unless they pay them a certain amount of money. Naturally, that includes threats to disclose sensitive or embarrassing information as well. 

It is worth mentioning that in the past couple of years, some states started recognizing cyber extortion as well. Usually, it will include malicious software or ransomware used to obtain money or other valuable items. 

Keep in mind that the perpetrator can also ask the victim to do something instead of asking for money. A perfect example is when they threaten politicians to make a certain decision, veto specific legislation, etc. 

If you have any questions about extortion, how it works, and what falls under it, you can always contact us at Davis, Ermis, & Roberts, P.C. Our experienced attorneys will be there to answer all of your questions.