Extortion and Blackmail Law

The terms extortion and blackmail are often used interchangeably, although there are differences. Extortion is the illegal and intentional use of threats to one’s person or property, coercion, or fraudulent claims of right of public duty (such as impersonating a police officer) for the purpose of taking money, goods, property, services or some other thing of value from a victim against his/her will. These threats can be those of violence, physical harm, criminal prosecution, or public exposure of harmful or secret information that would damage a person’s reputation and/or standing in the community. When the threat is to reveal embarrassing, harmful, and/or shameful information about the victim to his/her friends, co-workers, associates, family members or to the public in general, this is generally defined as blackmail, and is usually considered a type of extortion.

What is Extortion Law? The act of extortion is considered a felony in most U.S. States, punishable by fine, incarceration, probation or parole; and restitution payable to the victims. When a public official extorts someone by misusing his/her official position to obtain some advantage, profit or benefit, it is called “extortion under color of official right.”

The legal definition of the crime of extortion varies from state to state. In some states only acts of extortion performed by public officials is charged under the crime of extortion, while these acts, when committed by a private individual, are charged as blackmail. When interstate commerce is involved in an act of extortion, either physically or by use of computers, internet, phone or mail, it may be charged as a federal crime.

Whether or not the threat is carried out does not determine whether the crime of extortion has been committed. As long as a verbal, written or printed threat is made; there is intention to purposefully or willfully carry out the threat; and the victim reasonably believes that the threat is real, this is sufficient. Additionally, the threat can be directed toward someone other than the intended victim, such as his/her family member or loved one. Extortion is closely related to bribery and robbery since they are all forms of theft/larceny. However, with robbery, the money or property is taken by force or intimidation, against the victim’s will and without his/her consent.

Although rare, in some states, the crime of extortion can also result in a civil lawsuit for damages under tort law. In these cases, it is necessary to show proof of the threat or violence, proof that the extortion resulted in damage/injury and that the person being sued caused the damage.

To consult State Legislation regarding extortion laws and regulations please see the Criminal Code by State page Copyright HG.org

Extortion Law - US

  • 19 USC § 60 - Penalty for Extortion

    Every officer of the customs who demands or receives any other or greater fee, compensation, or reward than is allowed by law, for performing any duty or service required from him by law, shall be liable to a penalty of $200 for each offense, recoverable to the use of the party aggrieved.

  • ABA - Criminal Justice Section

    Membership in the ABA Criminal Justice Section brings with it many benefits and privileges. With its diverse membership of judges, private criminal defense attorneys, prosecutors, public defenders, academics, and other professionals, the Section is uniquely situated to bring all the various actors to the table to address today's most pressing criminal justice issues.

  • Extortion Law - Definition

    Extortion (also called blackmail, shakedown, outwresting, and exaction) is a criminal offence of unlawfully obtaining money, property, or services from a person, entity, or institution, through coercion. Refraining from doing harm is sometimes euphemistically called protection. Extortion is commonly practiced by organized crime groups. The actual obtainment of money or property is not required to commit the offense. Making a threat of violence which refers to a requirement of a payment of money or property to halt future violence is sufficient to commit the offense.

  • The Hobbs Act

    The U.S. Federal Law prohibiting actual or attempted robbery or extortion affecting interstate or foreign commerce.

  • The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act

    U.S. Federal law that established additonal criminal penalties and a civil cause of action for racketeering activity. Its purpose was to eliminate organized crime groups, such as the Mafia. This law provides forfeiture as punishment for extortion.

  • Title 18 of United States Code - Chapter 41: Extortion and Threats

    U.S. Federal laws addressing extortion, blackmail, kickbacks, interstate communications, threats, etc.

State Extortion Laws

Extortion Law - Europe

Extortion Law - International

Organizations Related to Extortion Law

  • Australian Crime Commission (ACC)

    The Australian Crime Commission (ACC) is established under the Australian Crime Commission Act 2002 as a statutory authority to combat serious and organised crime. The Commission reports directly to the Minister for Home Affairs and is part of the Attorney-General's portfolio.

  • FBI - Help for Victims of Crime

    The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is responsible for investigating a wide range of federal crimes. Part of the FBI’s work involves providing information and assistance to victims of those crimes. Crime can have a devastating effect on victims and their families who may need help coping with the impact of victimization. FBI Victim Specialists are highly trained professionals who can assist you and coordinate with other agencies in providing you with the support, information, and resources that can effectively meet your needs.

  • FCPA Professor

    FCPA Professor was created by Professor Mike Koehler in 2009. Described as “the Wall Street Journal concerning all things FCPA-related,” FCPA Professor has been named a Top 25 Business Law Blog by LexisNexis and a Top Law Blog for in-house counsel by Corporate Counsel. FCPA Professor readers include a world-wide audience of attorneys, business and compliance professionals, government agencies, scholars and students, journalists and other interested persons.

  • IC3 - Online Extortion Crimes

    Since its inception, the IC3 has received complaints crossing the spectrum of cyber crime matters, to include online fraud in its many forms including Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) matters, Computer Intrusions (hacking), Economic Espionage (Theft of Trade Secrets), Online Extortion, International Money Laundering, Identity Theft, and a growing list of Internet facilitated crimes.

Publications Related to Extortion Law

  • Extortion and Organised Crime in Europe

    A study financed by the European Commission DG JLS to assess the magnitude of the problem of extortion racketeering in the 27 EU Member States and if and how it should be tackled.

  • Extortion in the News - CNN

    News on crimes of extortion and theft by extortion.

  • Extortion Letter Info (ELI)

    ExtortionLetterInfo.com (ELI) is dedicated to reporting information and providing commentary on Getty Images (and other stock photo) Settlement Demand Letters. ELI is a privately-owned and privately-managed website. Every effort is made to provide factual information and professional opinions regarding Getty Images’ (and the respective companies’) “practice” of issuing “Settlement Letters” that we consider “legalized extortion”.

Articles on HG.org Related to Extortion Law

  • Federal RICO Charges and Penalties
    There are laws against organized crime that Congress passed for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Law, RICO in 1970. Through this regulation, it is a federal crime if someone participates or makes any type of income from organized, illegal and illegitimate actions, also called racketeering.
  • Federal Racketeering
    The crime of racketeering occurs when organized groups of individuals are running businesses illegally, and these are called rackets. It may also transpire when a crime group utilizes valid companies or organizations to embezzle funds from where the employee is working.
  • Criminal Implications of the Florida Money Laundering Act
    Individuals in Florida who conceal the source of money that derives from illegal means may wind up facing prosecution under the Florida Money Laundering Act. Understanding this wide-reaching law can help individuals prepare a solid defense against crimes charged under it.
  • “Distinctness” Between Individual RICO Defendants and Legal Entity Enterprise Is Clear
    Where is the Ambiguity When Allege Individual Defendant and Legal Entity Enterprise?
  • District Court in Third Circuit Denies Motion to Dismiss- Fraud Civil RICO Complaint is ON
    Can Company A sue Company B for commercial fraud under RICO? How about when the pattern and enterprise existed for only two years? Usually not, as most courts find the one-on-one litigation involving fraud to be plain and simple garden-variety fraud.
  • Crimes Committed in Casinos that May Surprise You
    While many persons are enjoying the feel and thrill of gambling in a casino after turning 21 years of age, some are determined to commit various crimes in these settings. Of those that execute offenses against the law, many try to cheat the casino through various means.
  • Supreme Court to Law Enforcement: Do Not Freeze Untainted Assets
    The precedent was set in 1989. In a United States v. Monsanto case, the Supreme Court held that a suspect who violated the Continuing Criminal Enterprise (CCE) and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) should not have access to the funds obtained through illegal activity.
  • Can the Government Take Away My Property?
    Through the process of forfeiture, the government may be able to take away the property of a civilian. This may be because the individual is involved in criminal activity or because he or she owns property that was involved in criminal activity.
  • Demanding Money to Remove Private Images from the Internet
    Over the last few years, a number of unscrupulous websites have developed around Americans' increasing comfort with sharing private, intimate photos with one another. While the photos are usually not intended for public consumption, often after a rough breakup or other event in which the recipient is left unhappy, that person will post those photos for the world to see. But is this legal? More importantly, can the site where the photos are posted legally charge you to take them down?
  • A History of American Gaming Laws
    Gambling is restricted in America, though its popularity is increasing. Laws regarding gambling are important not only for those involved with gaming operations, like casinos, bingo, or poker tournaments, but also for the average person who wants to know whether he can legally start a betting pool among his friends or at his office, has an idea for a new business model involving some form of chance, or if he can legally participate in an online poker tournament.

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