What is Extortion?

Extortion is More Common Than You'd Think

Anyone who has worked in a toxic environment or been in an abusive relationship knows what extortion is. Depending on the person committing the crime, the end goal may differ, but the interaction has the same functionality.

An employer forcing employees to hand over their tips or be fired is extortion. A spouse withholding affection from the other spouse unless given more "fun money" is extortion. A man holding another person at gunpoint and robbing them is extortion.

In all three of the above examples, the relationship functions similarly. There is the person who wants something and desires what is wanted; there is also the victim, unwillingly consenting to the seizure of property. Someone then implements force to achieve the desired outcome. Extortion is considered criminal because it infringes on the rights of another person; it can be viewed as a "negative" law—no one can extort another into a desired behavior or result.

extortion meaning


Extortion is a criminal offense; it is coercion to obtain something beneficial. Coercion can be force, threats, intimidation, or pressure from one’s authority. Said another way, extortion is procuring something, particularly money, through force or threats.

Real-world examples of extortion can come from many sources; not only are employers, lovers, and strangers able to extort someone—technology is increasingly utilized too. The best way to think about the possible sources of extortion is by thinking about the types of extortion:

  • Ransom demands: all ransom demands can be considered, at least partially, to be a type of extortion. For example, hackers may attack a business and threaten to release damning information unless their demands are fulfilled. Online scammers do the same thing when they insist they are helping, then fool their victim into paying the ransom demand.
  • Blackmail: these types of crimes are considered a subset of extortion. The aspect of blackmailing that separates it from other extortion types is that the threats involve information. Releasing information is essential here, as physical threats are not typical. Where a robbery may include a gun, blackmail may involve revenge porn or another type of unwanted release of information.
  • Protection schemes: much like the old mafia movies imply, protection schemes are criminal extortion. They work by insisting that the “weaker” party cannot protect themselves; thus, they need to hire protection. However, many of these schemes become extortion if the protectors aren’t paid. This is also an issue online, with some shady protection plans extorting their clients.
  • Emotional extortion: as stated in the example above, emotional abuse can be extortion. The problem with this extortion is that it will likely not be recognized in a court. Authorities still ignore psychological and emotional warfare, whereas physical altercations have recently been recognized.
  • Bribery: usually, bribery occurs between an individual and a higher-ranking official. The individual gives the authority figure something (i.e., money), and the figure does as the person desires. Extortion can work in both directions in these cases. The individual can threaten to expose the bribe that occurred, while the authority can threaten to expose the individual for an "attempted" bribe.
  • Robbery: the most tried and true version of extortion, robbery is about as simple as it gets. Regardless, we should note that robbery doesn’t necessarily have to come from a stranger on the street. Robbery can also occur between family members if there are physical threats involved. Home invasions, while considered a class of theft, are not typically considered extortion.

What Qualifies as Extortion?

Determining if an interaction qualifies as extortion is straightforward. A situation will qualify as an extortion interaction when there is a threat to harm unless otherwise satisfied. Threats to a person, family, friends, or work constitute extortion if procurement occurs.

However, some situations may raise questions about the soundness of an extortion charge in a crime. Blackmail should be one of the first to come to mind, as it doesn’t involve a physical threat, unlike others. Only the legal system can properly parse robbery charges depending on the situation.

Moreover, robbery can happen in two forms—both are called robbery, but only one qualifies as extortion. In robberies like home invasions (to pick up from before), the actual crime is the unwilling seizure of property. For a robbery to qualify for an extortion charge, it must involve the unwilling consent to surrender the property. That’s a nuanced difference, but it’s significant in court trials.

How is Extortion Generally Proved?

Prosecutors can prove extortion if the victim complies with demands, whether there is a real threat. Courts and juries can still bring charges if the victim does not comply with demands. Attempted extortion charges can be as serious as a felony, regardless of the unsuccessful crime.

Generally, a prosecutor is out to prove there was a threat to another person for gain. Extortion charges can include property like cash, debt collections, agreements for not participating in business, or tangible goods. In some states, sexual acts can also be covered by extortion laws, for example, in Arizona.

how to prove extortion

How to Report Extortion?

Depending on your situation’s extortion type, you may have different options for reporting the crime. Approaching supervisors or Human Resources for extortion cases in a work environment is not recommended. Instead, follow the steps below—these are suggested for all cases of possible extortion:

  • Gather all the evidence you can find. No matter what type of extortion you're going through, gather all the evidence you can. Evidence can consist of vocal recordings or written admissions like texts or emails.
  • Take the evidence to the police or FBI field officeExtortion will usually include threats that may take place in the future. This means one of the best things you can do is take evidence to the authorities for safekeeping.
  • File a report with the authorities. Of course, there will likely be a report filed on your behalf by the police. This will include the recording of any evidence brought with you, as well as a legally binding statement.

All Extortion Victims are Strongly Encouraged to Seek Assistance from Authorities and Legal Counsel

Criminal records are life-changing things. Those charged with extortion are also charged with a white-collar crime. Their careers are over, and their reputation is destroyed almost beyond repair. Despite this, reporting extortion behaviors or interactions is necessary for the victim. Bringing charges may result in reparations for the victim; it may also result in additional charges from other, previously unknown victims.