Let's say that someone scams me, yet I manage to find this person and tell that if I'm not paid some money I will press charges as theft by deception. Does this also qualify as extortion? Generally, is asking money to not inform authorities or to not witness for someone a crime of any kind?

EDIT: While there is already a similar question with an answer that just says yes, I wish I could know the details (law, case, reference...).

  • Possible duplicate of May a person accept and keep bribes so long as they act lawfully?
    – Dale M
    Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 23:18
  • @DaleM Thanks for the reference. It is not the same questions, but someone answered this there. I'm not quite satisfied though, because they don't cite any reference, law or case. Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 23:35
  • Maybe you should specify how much money you are asking for. I'm pretty sure that if you are asking for more than they stole, that would be extortion. If you're asking for the exact amount they stole, maybe not?
    – James
    Commented Sep 26, 2016 at 12:02
  • @James I don't think that the amount of money makes any difference here. People are supposed to handle such cases to police and wait until the justice does their work. People are not really obligated to report anything to police anyway, but which method would be considered legal to convince a person to hand over some money? Does settling with the criminal in exchange of this favor qualify also as a threat? Commented Sep 26, 2016 at 19:58
  • You're probably right, but consider if someone picks up your shopping bag and starts to walk away until you say "Give it back and I'll forget the whole thing". Would that be extortion? Is it extortion if we replace the shopping bag with a bundle of cash?
    – James
    Commented Sep 26, 2016 at 21:57

1 Answer 1


Extortion is distinct from bribery, since you can only bribe a public official but you can extort anyone. In California, Penal Code sect. 518 defines extortion:

Extortion is the obtaining of property from another, with his consent, or the obtaining of an official act of a public officer, induced by a wrongful use of force or fear, or under color of official right.

The statutes do not clarify what "wrongfully" means, and the Calcrim jury instructions are also no help. I presume that this distinguishes the case where you create fear in the perpetrator and solicit payment for silence, versus the perpetrator becomes fearful on his own and offers money to "compensate" you (which is legal). So then sect. 519, states what can induce fear:

Fear, such as will constitute extortion, may be induced by a threat of any of the following:

... 2. To accuse the individual threatened, or a relative of his or her, or a member of his or her family, of a crime.

  1. To expose, or to impute to him, her, or them a deformity, disgrace, or crime.

You would be threatening cause of fear number 2 (and 3). Then the question arises, were you successful? Note that extortion is defined in terms of obtaining property. If you actually obtain the property, that violates section 520:

Every person who extorts any money or other property from another, under circumstances not amounting to robbery or carjacking, by means of force, or any threat, such as is mentioned in Section 519, shall be punished by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 for two, three or four years.

If you only make the threat, and the threat is written, then per sect. 523, the same punishment results:

Every person who, with intent to extort any money or other property from another, sends or delivers to any person any letter or other writing, whether subscribed or not, expressing or implying, or adapted to imply, any threat such as is specified in Section 519, is punishable in the same manner as if such money or property were actually obtained by means of such threat.

But otherwise (if you do not obtain the property, and the threat is not written), per sect 524 there is a lesser penalty:

Every person who attempts, by means of any threat, such as is specified in Section 519 of this code, to extort money or other property from another is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not longer than one year or in the state prison or by fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or by both such fine and imprisonment.

There is no law prohibiting you from telling a person that they must return the money they scammed from you, and there is no law requiring you to report an attempt to scam. The line that you are not allowed to cross is creating a fear that you will report them to the police if they do not give you some amount of their property.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .