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Online Extortion: When Do Internet Postings Become Illegal?

By Aaron Minc on December 14, 2016

Online Extortion RequestsRecently CNN released an article questioning if 2016 would be known as the year of online extortion. In their article,  CNN highlights some well-known and public online extortion cases. Many of these extortion events involve ransomware, which holds a computer’s files ransom until a person pays for their files to be released.  This is a growing problem across the country and something the FBI has estimated has cost its victims $18 million dollars just since April of 2014.  People have begun asking if these sorts of programs are legal.  The answer is almost certainly no!

What is Online Extortion?

Extortion is the gaining of property or money by almost any kind of force, or threat of violence, property damage, harm to reputation, or by unfavorable government action.   Extortion is a crime of varying degrees in every state and there is a federal law pertaining to extortion, which can be found at 18 U.S.C § 872.  However, the federal extortion laws generally apply protections both to and against federal employees, whereas the individual states extortion laws will apply to individual citizens.

How is Online Extortion Different from Blackmail?

Blackmail is a common theme in movies particularly ones involving criminals, where usually the “bad guy” threatens to release some damaging picture or document unless the other person pays an exorbitant amount of money.  While extortion is the illegal and intentional use of threats to one persons or property, coercion, or fraudulent claims of right of public duty. Blackmail on the other hand is much like in the movies when a person makes a threat to reveal embarrassing, harmful, or shameful information about a victim.

What are the Punishments for Online Extortion?

Each state has its own extortion laws. Therefore it would be impossible to explain and analyze each state’s laws on extortion and provide a summation of the penalties a person might face if they are convicted of extortion. There are penalties that may be imposed if a person is charged and convicted of the federal crime of extortion.

Though states provide a wide range of penalties for extortion, the crime is most often punished as a felony offense. A felony is the most serious category of crime, one that is punishable by at least a year in prison and significant fines. In some states and in some situations, however, the crime may be classified as a misdemeanor, in which case it has lower fines and jail sentences associated with it.

  • Fines – A person can be fined if you are convicted of extortion. Fines for extortion can range widely, but they can be as high as $10,000 or more for each count or conviction.
  • Restitution – Restitution is another form of penalty that may be given if a person is convicted of extortion. In addition to fines, a person convicted of extortion must often pay restitution to the victim, especially when the victim was deprived of valuable property. Unlike a fine, which is paid to the state, restitution is paid to the victim as compensation for the loss the victim suffered.
  • Incarceration. Prison sentences for extortion can be significant. State laws allow for prison sentences of up to 15 years or more for each individual extortion attempt.
  • Probation. Courts may also impose probation sentences for an extortion conviction. Courts may be more likely to use a probation sentence when someone has failed at an attempted extortion or the extortion did not otherwise result in any loss of property by the victim. Probation sentences typically last for 12 months or more, may include a fine, and require that the convicted person comply with specific terms imposed by the court, such as keeping a job and not contacting the victim. Failing to comply with probation terms typically results in having to serve a prison sentence.

 Strategic Internet Defamation Removal Lawyers

If you or your business is a victim of online extortion, it is very important to contact the right authorities and legal counsel. The Internet defamation removal lawyers at Meyers Roman Friedberg & Lewis LPA may be able to protect your from online extortion or blackmail.  To schedule a free and confidential Internet defamation removal consultation call Aaron Minc of  Meyers Roman Friedberg & Lewis LPA at 216-831-0042 or contact us online.


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