A large, intimidating man walks into a profitable liquor store in the heart of the city, not to buy anything but to offer “protection” to the shopkeeper (for a weekly fee, of course). She declines, but he insists. The man casually lists the names of her four children and states he wouldn’t want anything “bad” to happen to them. The shopkeeper relents, agreeing to pay him a set amount each week.
Per the above illustration, extortion is the crime of obtaining money or property by threat to a victim’s property or loved ones, intimidation, or false claim of a right. The following is an overview of the crime.
Extortion: Definition and Overview
Most states define extortion as the gaining of property or money by almost any kind of force or threat of violence, property damage, harm to reputation, or unfavorable government action. While usually viewed as a form of theft/larceny, extortion differs from robbery in that the threat in question does not pose an imminent physical danger to the victim.
Extortion is a felony in all states. Blackmail is a form of extortion in which the threat is to expose embarrassing and damaging information to family, friends, or the public. Inherent in this common form of extortion is the threat to expose the details of someone’s private lives to the public unless money is exchanged.
Another common extortion crime is offering “protection” to a businessman to keep his business safe from burglary or vandalism. For example, Dan goes to Victor’s place of business and demands monthly payment from Victor for the business’s “protection” from vandalism and after-hours theft. Fearing that he or his business will suffer harm otherwise, Victor agrees to pay Dan.
Extortion can take place over the telephone, via mail, text, email or other computer or wireless communication. If any method of interstate commerce is used in the extortion, it can be a federal crime.