If you found this blog by googling “what to do when you are being extorted,” you are probably in a bad situation. You may be terrified just thinking about what will happen to you if the extorter actually goes through with his threat. And exposes your secret to your loved ones, or your job. Also, you may be catastrophizing the situation and planning the ultimate worst case scenario in your head. You may have difficulty sleeping, eating, or focusing on just about anything else. With the threat of your secret being exposed hanging over your head.
Do not worry, one way or another you will get through this. Here is some guidance on what to do if you are being extorted. As always, consult an experienced extortion defense attorney, prior to doing anything.
What is extortion?
Extortion can be generally defined as the practice of obtaining anything of value, that you would otherwise not be entitled through the use of coercion and threats. Although you may be picturing a mobster asking for a financial contribution from a small family business, extortion does not have to involve physical threats. Specifically, these threats can take on any form – such as physical, economic, personal, or reputational damage.
Extortion is a Crime Under Both New York and Federal Law
Extortion is a crime under both state and federal law.
New York Extortion Laws
In New York, the legal term for extortion is “larceny by extortion,” or stealing by extortion. This charge is codified in New York Penal Law Section 155.05.
Specifically, NY Penal Law Section 155.05(e) provides that a person obtains property through extortion when he:
- Compels or induces another person,
- To deliver property to himself or to a third person,
- By instilling in him a fear that
- The actor or another individual will engage in harmful conduct.
Conduct Specifically Prohibited by New York Extortion Statute
The statute further defines harmful extortion conduct as:
- Physical injury to some person in the future;
- Damage to property;
- Engaging in other conduct constituting a crime;
- Accusing someone of a crime or causing criminal charges to be filed;
- Expose a secret or publicize a fact, whether true or false;
- Causing a strike, boycott or other collective labor group action injurious to someone’s business;
- Testimony, or withholding of testimony or information with respect to another’s legal claim or defense;
- Use or abuse of position as a public servant by performing or failing to perform an act within or related to official duties;
- Any other act which is calculated to harm another person materially with respect to health, safety, business, calling, career, financial condition, reputation, or personal relationships.
New York Extortion Statutes and Penalties
The two New York extortion statutes are Grand Larceny Fourth Degree (Penal Law Section 155.30(6)) and Grand Larceny in the Second Degree (Penal Law Section 155.40(2)).
Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree
Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree prohibits the taking of any property by extortion. Importantly, there is no value requirement for the property. Grand Larceny in Fourth Degree, is a Class “E” Non-Violent Felony. Therefore, it can be punishable by up to 1 1/3 – 4 years incarceration.
Grand Larceny in the Second Degree
This charge is similar to the above-described Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree charge. However, it has one additional element. In addition to the property being taken by extortion, there is an element of instilling fear. Specifically, this fear must be instilled through the threat of:
- Physical injury to someone in the future,
- Damage to property, or
- Use or abuse of duties by a public servant resulting in adverse consequences
Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, is a Class “C” Non-Violent Felony. Therefore, it can be punishable by 5 – 15 years incarceration.
Federal Extortion Laws
Blackmail (18 United States Code §873)
This federal statute provides that an individual is guilty of blackmail, when under a threat of informing, or as a consideration for not informing, demands or receives any money or other valuable thing, in violation of any law of the United States.
An individual convicted of this charge can be fined or imprisoned for up to one year, or both.
Extortion Through Interstate communications (18 United States Code §875(d))
Extortion under 18 United States Code §875(d) has the following elements:
- Intent to extort from any person or corporation,
- Anything of value,
- Transmission in interstate or foreign commerce,
- Any communication containing any threat to injure property, reputation of any individual (including decade people), or any threat to accuse someone of a crime.
This charge is punishable by a fine, up to two years imprisonment, or both.
Receiving the proceeds of extortion (18 United States Code §880)
Additionally, it is also a crime to receive, possess, conceal of dispose of any money or property that was obtained by extortion or blackmail crimes that are punishable by imprisonment for more than 1 year, with knowledge that the funds were unlawfully obtained.
This charge is punishable by up to three years imprisonment, or a fine or both.
Common Extortion Scenarios
These are some common extortion situations :
- Talking to someone who you believe is of legal age online. Later, receiving a call from that person’s “parent” claiming that the person you were speaking to is underage and you need to send a lot of money for therapy.
- Meeting up with a person you met on an adult-dating app and engaging in sexual intercourse. Then receiving threats that unless you pay an exorbitant amount of money, that person will go to the police and file a report for statutory rape. Because they are much younger than they told you.
- Hiring an escort and then being extorted for money. Typically, the threat is either the filing of a police report for non-consensual sex/rape, or telling your loved ones about what you did.
- Receiving an email that someone has spyware on your computer and they were able to record your private moments. Importantly, if you are a victim of this scam, you may want to consider filing a complaint with the FBI.
What To Do When You Receive an Extortion Demand?
When you receive an extortion demand, you may be thinking that life as you know it, is over. Here is what to do to put yourself in a better situation:
1. Do Not Panic
First thing you should do it take a deep breath. This extortion threat will take over your life if you let it. You need to compartmentalize and not let it consume every minute of your day. Ultimately, it will all work out. However, you may have a stressful few days if not months ahead of you.
Whatever you do, do not rush into any course of action without thinking things through and consulting an attorney. If you are threatened with criminal charges, do not go to the police to self-report yourself. That may do more harm than good. Do not convince yourself that acting swiftly and impulsively is the best thing for you. This is exactly what the extorter wants, a quick payout before you thought things through!
2. Collect the Evidence
One of the first things I ask clients during the initial consultation on these types of cases is the evidence. While it is impossible to predict what may be relevant to your case, you should consider taking screenshots or somehow preserving the entire universe of what exists. Specifically, this may include:
- all communications between parties – whether text messages, emails, Whatsup, FaceTime logs, etc.;
- records of any financial transactions;
- your profile;
- their profile.
You should also start a document labeled “For my Attorney: Protected by Attorney Client Privilege,” and write down a chronology of everything that happened, in as much detail as possible. This will help you remember many more things that you may otherwise have forgotten.
3. Turn Off All Social Media and Deactivate Linkedin
This is probably the most important step. You ought to limit access to the information within your control that is available online. Turn off your social media and deactivate your LinkedIn. Unless you’ve were quoted in the press, gave a speech at a conference, or have an bio on your Firm’s website, it is not easy to figure out where you work. Without the help of Facebook, it also may be difficult to figure out exactly who your close family members and friends are. This also applies to Venmo, if you have a public account.
4. Stall As Much As You Can
Extorters typically give you a very short window in which to make payment. Once again, the hope is that you will make a rushed decision and pay, just to stop your own anxiety.
You need to stall to get enough time to consult an attorney and develop a strategy. Fake a death in the family, a work emergency, whatever it takes. You will not be bullied into making a rushed decision.
5. Remember You Have Options
Do not think that your only option out of this is to pay the extorter. You have a few other options. Specifically, you can:
- Refuse to pay the extortion demand;
- Serve the extorter with a cease and desist;
- File a police report against the extorter;
- Pursue legal action against the extorter
Do not panic. Contact an attorney today to discuss your situation and develop a plan of action.
6. Consult An Experienced Criminal Attorney
You need solid legal guidance to navigate out of the extortion situation. We have helped dozens of extortion victims. Contact us today.