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What is blackmail and extortion?

Blackmail and Extortion are serious crimes that carries a penalty of up to 14 years imprisonment.

WHAT IS EXTORTION?

Extortion is sometimes confused with blackmail. Although there are a lot of similarities between the two crimes, and the sentencing guidelines are the same for both offences, extortion and blackmail describe two different acts.

BLACKMAIL

The offence of blackmail is committed when a person makes an unwarranted demand with menaces with a view to gain for themselves or another or intending to cause loss to another.

Most commonly, blackmail involves a request for money coupled by a threat to do something against the victims interests if they dont pay (for example, a threat to expose harmful information about the victim – whether this be true or false information). However, this is one of many ways that the offence of blackmail can be committed.

Looking at the elements of the offence:

  • A demand can be a request for something or an offer of something (for example protection). The demand does not need to be communicated in words; it can be conveyed by an individuals demeanour provided that the effect is to subject the victim to menacing pressure. Spoken or written demands do not need to be received by the victim; they will be considered made for the purposes of establishing this element of the offence as soon as they are addressed to the victim, whether received or not.
  • The term menaces is not defined in the relevant legislation but should be understood as having its ordinary meaning in the English language. A serious or significant threat will often qualify as a menace, even if the threat itself does not affect the victim. Here the question is an objective one: whether an ordinary person of normal stability and courage would be moved by or made apprehensive by the threat so as to accede unwillingly to the demand. Even where an ordinary person would not be moved by a particular threat, if the victim is exceptionally timid or susceptible to that threatened action, and the person issuing the threat knows this and/or intends to capitalise on that susceptibility, they will be considered to be acting with menaces.
  • A demand is unwarranted unless the person making it believes both (i) that they have reasonable grounds for making the demand; and (ii) that menaces are a proper means of enforcing the demand. This means that even if the individual believes they have a legal right to make a particular request, if they re-enforce that request with menaces that they know to be improper, they can still be guilty of blackmail. In a similar vein, the fact that the action threatened may be legal or even morally desirable (for example, revealing the victims criminality) does not prevent a demand from being unwarranted; the use of a serious or significant threat to re-enforce a demand will usually make the demand unwarranted. This test is subjective: what the defendant in fact believed, reasonably or not.
  • The gain sought or loss intended must concern the gain or loss of money or property. The gain or loss intended does not need to be permanent and can include gain by keeping something that an individual already has and loss by depriving the victim of something they might otherwise get. Read more on Blackmail here

EXTORTION

Extortion differs from blackmail in the nature of the threat. Extortion describes the act of threatening a victims person or property with violence, physical harm or destruction to coerce them into complying with demands. Unlike with blackmail (where the threatened action itself may be legal and morally desirable – for example, the exposure of the victims criminality), the threatened actions that constitute extortion when used to re-enforce an unwarranted demand would be offences in and of themselves (offences against the person or criminal damage).

WHAT IS SEXTORTION?

There is widespread media coverage of wealthy and famous individuals being affected by sextortion or revenge porn. Although it sounds similar to extortion, sextortion is actually a form of cyber-enabled blackmail. This is because sextortion entails threats not of physical harm or the destruction to property, but instead that an individual will release photographs or videos of the victim that are sexual in nature unless their demands are met. If revealed this material often has the potential to adversely affect the victim, for example by:

  • Causing great embarrassment for the victim
  • Impacting their family relationships.
  • Causing reputational damage.
  • Affecting their employment or business interests.

In the past, this crime often followed the acrimonious breakdown of a romantic relationship, but increasingly, victims are being lured into performing sexual acts in front of webcams or encouraged to send intimate images of themselves on dating apps, social media or adult sites, which are then downloaded or saved by the perpetrator and form the basis of the threat. Even where the images or videos have been obtained with consent, a threat to share that material unless the victim does something crosses the threshold of criminal behaviour.

The information on this website is intended as a guide and does not constitute legal advice. Vardags do not accept liability for any errors in the information on this website, nor any losses stemming from reliance upon the statements made herein. All articles and pages aim to reflect the legal position at time they were published, and may have been rendered obsolete by subsequent developments in the law. Should you require specialist advice, tailored to your situation, please see how Vardags can help you.

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