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Is Blackmail a Crime?
Everything You Need to Know

Blackmail, known in the legal system as extortion, is a crime that involves the use of force or threats to compel another person into providing money or property, or using force or threats to compel a public official to perform or neglect an official act or duty.
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C.L. Mike Schmidt Published by C.L. Mike Schmidt
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What are the 3 Types of Blackmail?

Though blackmail can occur across a range of different circumstances, the crime can typically be classified into 3 main types:


The wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence, or intimidation to gain money or property from an individual or entity. Most cases of extortion involve a threat being made to the victim’s person or property, or to their family or friends. While the threat of violence or property damage is common in cases of extortion, it can also involve reputational harm or unfavorable government action.


A person is guilty of coercion when they compel or induce another person to engage in conduct which the latter has a legal right to abstain from engaging in or to abstain from engaging in conduct in which he or she has a legal right to engage, and when he or she thereby compels or induces the victim to:

  • Commit or attempt to commit a felony.
  • Cause or attempt to cause physical injury to a person.
  • Violate his or her duty as a public servant.

Commercial Pressure

Exists when one party to a commercial transaction is in a stronger bargaining position than the other party. In most cases, a party faced with a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude, or an unwarranted, unreasonable demand for an increase in the contract sum, can source the subject matter of the contract from elsewhere and sue the other party for breach of contract.

What are Some Examples of Blackmail?

Some common examples of blackmail or coercion include:

  • A person threatening to distribute explicit images unless the owner of the photos does something in order to prevent it;
  • A person threatening to leak criminal information on an individual unless the victim agrees to endorse a political candidate/cause;
  • A hacker holding a computer system hostage unless a business or organization pays a ransom.

What is the Penalty for Blackmail?

In most U.S. states, blackmail is a felony. A conviction can result in imprisonment for 2, 3, or 4 years. It can also lead to a fine of up to $10,000, depending on the level of offense.

Related Article: Difference Between a Tort and Crime

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