Extortion and Blackmail Crimes

What is extortion?

Extortion is when a person attempts to obtain something of value — typically money or property, but it can be other things as well — through force, threats and/or intimidation.

Extortion is commonly confused with blackmail, which is a similar act though with different means. While extortion is generally an attempt to gain something of value through threats of violence or intimidation, blackmail is typically an attempt to gain something of value by threats of revealing something that could be embarrassing or damaging to a person’s character or reputation.

Some legal experts agree that blackmail is a narrower action under the broader term of extortion. In California, both extortion and blackmail are covered under the same law.

What are some examples of extortion?

Some common examples of extortion include:

  • Someone threatening to “beat up” another person if they don’t hand over a piece of property;
  • Someone threatening to “jump” another person unless they join a gang;
  • A local gang threatening to destroy a business unless the owner pays a “protection fee.”

(Flickr Creative Commons)


What are some examples of blackmail?

Some common examples of blackmail include:

  • A person threatening to distribute intimate images unless the owner of the photos does something in order to prevent it;
  • A person threatening to leak criminal information on another person unless the victim agrees to endorse a political candidate/cause;
  • A group of hackers holding a computer system hostage unless a business or organization pays a ransom via Bitcoin.

What’s the penalty for extortion or blackmail?

California lumps extortion and blackmail into the same criminal offense statute. It doesn’t matter if the attempt to extort or blackmail is successful — even an attempt is a crime under the law.

Penalties for extortion and/or blackmail range from misdemeanor punishments including up to 1 year in jail or prison and/or a fine of up to $1,000 to felony punishments that has the potential for a longer prison sentence and/or heavier fines.

Extortion and blackmail charges are very serious. If you have been charged with extortion or blackmail, or you think you could be charged in the future, contact criminal defense attorney Mark Reichel right now for a free consultation.

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