Blackmail and extortion are two of the most insidious of crimes, but they can work in very different ways and the people who might commit them are often different.
Understanding this distinction is important, especially if you fear you are being extorted and need to find this out.
The first of these is the obtaining of money, favours or other advantages by someone who may hold some potentially damaging or embarrassing information about you. By its nature, this is more likely to be an opportunist crime as it is not the case that anyone can come to possess some awkward or compromising data or pictures.
Extortion is different in that it is less likely to be directed at an individual, and relies not on opportunism but sheer malice and, at times, thuggery. It can involve kidnap, protection rackets or, in modern times, the use of ransomware by cyber criminals.
Knowing this distinction can be the first part of the question to tell if you are being extorted. But this is a simple answer in a scenario where it is you as an individual or business owner who is facing demands for money under duress and threat.
A less obvious case is if the ‘you’ is your company and the crime is taking place at a different level. For instance, as an owner, you may have no specific knowledge of extortion occurring, but see evidence that some money is disappearing mysteriously.
This could be a situation where someone in your organisation is being extorted but has been threatened with serious consequences if they tell you.
It is in such situations that private detective work can be crucial in uncovering what is going on. A successful investigation can identify the crooks, produce a trail of evidence and ensure the police are given every reason to pay them a dawn visit, so that anyone in danger may even be safely oblivious to what is going on until the extortionists are in custody.
The definition of extortion does extend to upfront acts like muggings and armed robbery, but often it is organised crime that carries the greatest threat, not least because the victim is forced to make repeated payments.
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