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What Is the Difference Between Blackmail and Extortion?


Bribery involves someone paying a public official to do something that the bribe payer wants the public official to do.  Extortion and blackmail, however, involve the defendant pressuring the victim to pay money or provide other products or services to the defendant by threatening the victim with physical violence or some other undesirable outcome if the victim does not comply with the defendant’s request.  Blackmail and extortion are usually class C misdemeanors, punishable by a fine of up to $500.  If the value of the assets obtained through blackmail is more than $2,500, then a blackmail or extortion conviction can get you a jail sentence of up to two years, plus a criminal fine.  The penalties are even more severe if the victim of blackmail or extortion is a minor, an elderly person, or a public official.  If you are facing criminal charges for extortion or blackmail, contact a white collar crimes lawyer.

Extortion Involves a Threat of Physical or Financial Harm or Official Penalties

Extortion is an attempt to coerce someone into paying you money or providing you with products or services free of charge; in that regard, it is similar to robbery.  Your actions qualify as extortion if you threaten the victim with any of the following consequences if they do not give you the money, assets, or services you are demanding:

  • Physical violence against the victim or a third party
  • ​Destruction of property belonging to the victim
  • A governmental action against the victim, such as revoking the victim’s professional license or ruling against the victim in a pending lawsuit

Some extortion cases involve public officials trying to extort money from private citizens, but you do not have to be a public official to get charged with extortion.

Blackmail Involves a Threat of Harm to the Victim’s Reputation

Blackmail also involves trying to coerce the victim into giving you money or doing something else you want them to do, but in this case, the threat is not about violence or destruction of property.  In blackmail cases, the defendant threatens to reveal information, presumably credible information, that would harm the victim’s personal or professional reputation or personal relationships.  For example, if Linda sees her coworker Jim holding hands with a woman at the mall, and she threatens to tell Jim’s wife unless he pays Linda a certain amount of money per week, Linda can be charged with blackmail.  She can still be convicted if Jim refuses the offer, and even if he is sure that his wife will not divorce him if she finds out that he cheated on her.  Blackmail is about the intent, not the consequences.

Contact the Law Office of Patrick J. McLain, PLLC About Your Blackmail or Extortion Case

A criminal defense lawyer can help you if you are being accused of a financial crime such as blackmail or extortion. Contact the Law Office of Patrick J. McLain, PLLC in Dallas, Texas to discuss your case.

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