A Brief Overview of Extortion


Extortion is crime that is committed when someone intentionally threatens to do damage to another person unless the extortionist is given what they want. The damage that is threatened does not necessarily have to be of a violent nature. Although it is common to use violence as the threat, the extortionist could also threaten to ruin one's reputation by telling a secret or even starting a damaging rumor.

A person who is in a position of authority such as a police officer can extort someone accusing them of a committing a crime. Usually, the extortionist is after someone's money or property. However, sometimes they are after information about a particular thing. Extortion is a serious crime that sometimes is classified as a misdemeanor. However, usually it is a felony.


Two other crimes that closely resemble extortion are robbery and false pretenses. However, the crime of extortion has particular characteristics that set it apart from the other two crimes. For someone to commit extortion, the threat of harm, whether professional, physical, or personal, must be made. If the threatened harm is done immediately with no warning, then the crime is robbery and not extortion. False pretenses involves knowingly lying to someone to gain something. Extortion is a Federal, not State crime.

Extortion as a Federal Crime

A Federal crime is different from a State crime. Federal crimes are often considered white collar crimes. That means that professionals are likely to commit a crime of that nature. Extortion is often considered to be a white collar crime because of the nature of it. Since extortion is a Federal crime, the State that one lives in has very little to do with the way the case will play out.

Although some jurisdictions may hand out harsher or more lenient sentences than others, there are still Federal guidelines that must be followed. As a Federal crime, all 50 states in America have laws against extortion.


Charges of extortion vary depending on the circumstances. There are different types of extortion that one can be charged with, although they still fall under the category of extortion. One can be charged with extortion using the threat of physical harm or death. Ruining one's reputation by releasing information is another threat that extortionists make.

All of the charges have different punishments with different levels of severity. It is possible for an individual to be charged with more than one count of extortion. Other charges will sometimes accompany the charge of extortion, especially when the one accused is involved with organized crime.

Legal Extortion

The term legal extortion can be a confusing one. However, it is aptly titled since legal extortion is mostly committed by lawyers. In order to commit legal extortion, an attorney will file a lawsuit against a person or company with no evidence of any wrongdoing. If the lawyer did not research the case before he or she took it, they may be trying to legally extort the one they are suing.

Legal extortion involves lawsuits that have no merit and no proof of wrongdoing. An attorney will commit legal extortion for financial gain. Many judges who are experienced will recognize a case like this and throw it out, although the attorney may appeal and often does.

Related Crimes

There are other crimes that closely resemble the crime of extortion. Robbery and false pretenses were previously mentioned. Other crimes that have similar characteristics of extortion are coercion, loan sharking and price gouging. The general theme of all these crimes is trying to take or taking money from someone in an illegal manner. However, extortion, coercion and false pretenses are not always about financial gain. These three crimes may be committed for other reasons, such as learning confidential information. Robbery, loan sharking and price gouging are always used for financial gain.


To coerce someone into doing something means that one was forced to do something they do not want to do by the use of threats or violence. This may be something like participating in a crime. The action that one is coerced into does not always involve money and is not always illegal.

The common thread that coercion has is the knowledge that if one does not participate in something, harm will come to them. If an individual physically harms a person to get them to do something, that is also considered coercion.

Loan Sharking

Loan sharking is the process of providing illegally high interest, unsecured loans to people. Along with the fact that the high level of the interest rate alone is illegal, loan sharks almost always use violence to get what they want if they are not paid back. Many loan sharks operate in poor areas where small amounts of money are needed for necessities. They charge incredibly high interest rates and will physically harm someone who does not pay back the loan. It may take an individual a long time to pay off a loan shark due to the fact that the interest rates are so high.

On a larger scale, loan sharking is a process often associated with organized crime. Usually, the amount of money that is borrowed is a much larger amount than those of low incomes. The consequences of not paying back the loan can be deadly.

Price Gouging

There are two forms of price gouging. One is illegal and one is not. Price gouging can occur when a merchant charges unusually high prices for their products. Consumers can complain about this price gouging but the only way to fight it is to shop elsewhere. A free market society has made it impossible for price gouging to be illegal in that form.

The other form of price gouging is illegal and more harmful. Illegal price gouging involves merchants raising the prices of items in their stores during a time of disaster or a state of emergency. A merchant must keep their prices the same when the area that their store is in the boundaries of is in a state of emergency, such as during or after a hurricane.

Sentencing and Punishment

While there are times when punishment for extortion is mild, legal consequences can be very serious. Depending on the nature of the extortion, an individual can face up to ten years in jail. A violent extortion will be punished very severely, especially if one's life was threatened. An individual can also be charged with more than one extortion charge. Some people will only have to pay fines, but most incidents of extortion are considered felonies and will serve a jail sentence.

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