What is the difference between extortion and blackmail?

The biggest difference between extortion and blackmail is that blackmail requires a threat. Extortion is a theft crime involving coercion to obtain money, property, or services from a victim. Like extortion, blackmail is classified as a theft crime, but it involves making a threat instead of coercion and is usually charged as a felony.

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jan 5, 2021

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Extortion and blackmail are similar in concept, but there are differences between the two. Extortion is a form of theft that occurs when an offender obtains money, property, or services from another person through coercion. To constitute coercion, the necessary act can be the threat of violence, destruction of property, or improper government action. Inaction of the testimony or the withholding of testimony in legal action are also acts that constitute coercion.

As a theft crime, extortion is often graded as a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the amount of money or the value of the property or services extorted from the victim. Originally, extortion was a crime only against public officials who committed the acts that made up the crime under the color of their office. Recently, however, it has been extended to include extortion committed by private individuals.

Keep reading to find out what is the difference between extortion and blackmail. If you need help from an attorney, just enter your ZIP code below.

Is there a difference between blackmail and extortion?

Blackmail, in contrast to extortion, is when the offender threatens to reveal information about a victim or his family members that is potentially embarrassing, socially damaging, or incriminating unless a demand for money, property, or services is met. Even if the information is true or actually incriminating, you can still be charged with blackmail if you threaten to reveal it unless the victim meets your demand.

Is blackmail a felony or misdemeanor? Blackmail is generally classified as a felony, which could result in multi-year prison sentences and large fines.

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What are the potential legal consequences of extortion and blackmail?

Many states combine the crimes of extortion and blackmail under one general law. In California, for example, the applicable statute is known as the California Extortion and Blackmail Law. Under this law, anyone who threatens an individual with the use of force (extortion) or threatens to reveal damaging information about a person or his family members is guilty of a crime. Under California law, extortion or blackmail are graded as felonies and are punishable by up to four years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000.

In the end, if you are charged with either of these crimes, it does not matter if it is considered extortion or blackmail. What matters is that you get help from an attorney as soon as possible because both extortion and blackmail are serious crimes.

Examples of Extortion

Check out below to find out what is an example of extortion and what is legally considered extortion:

  • When a person threatens to injure the victim, accuse the victim of a crime or other disgraceful conduct, expose a secret, or report a person to immigration.
  • When a person makes a verbal threat, or a threat in writing, or even through non-verbal gestures or other communications
  • When a person makes a threat with the intention of forcing someone else to give out money, property, or something of value. 

Blackmail Examples

Read on below to learn what is an example of blackmail:

  • If a person tells the victim that he/she will harm the victim’s family unless they drop the lawsuit against that person
  • When a person sends you a threatening letter, saying that he/she will expose your extramarital affair to your husband unless you pay them money
  • When someone is extorting money by threatening to reveal embarrassing information, such as photos
  • When someone is extorting money by threatening to publish embarrassing information, such as intimate photos or videos until the victim provides money or something of value (cyber blackmail)
  • When a perpetrator who has a personal or intimate relationship with another uses threats, punishment, and guilt to control the other person’s behavior (emotional blackmail)

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