What Are Extortion, Blackmail, and Larceny?

What Are Extortion, Blackmail, and Larceny?

One might hear someone use the terms “extortion,” “blackmail,” and “larceny” interchangeably, but in fact they are three separate crimes. Each term refers to a specific illegal action allegedly taken by the defendant. Learning the distinction between the three terms can help you understand a recent charge police brought against you or a loved one.


Extortion describes a form of theft in which one person intimidates or threatens another in an effort to influence the victim’s behavior. High-profile people such as celebrities are most often the victims of extortion, but it can happen to anyone. While the perpetrator steals money or property from the victim, much like regular theft, he or she does so through threats or intimidation, not through actual force. The threats can be of bodily injury, death, damage to the victim’s reputation, or other activities described in Georgia Code Section 16-8-16 , including the threat to:

  • Accuse the victim of a crime
  • Distribute information about the person
  • Take or withhold duties as a public official
  • Bring about a strike or boycott
  • Testify or withhold testimony regarding the victim’s legal claim or defense

Extortion is also similar to robbery, although in a robbery, the perpetrator’s threats are likely imminent. Extortion is a serious crime in the state of Georgia, with the offense classified as “theft by extortion.” If the courts find you guilty of extortion in Georgia, you could face a prison sentence from a minimum of one year to a maximum of 10 years, as well as hefty fines.


Blackmail is an example of extortion, but the two terms are not one and the same. The criminal term “blackmail” refers specifically to threats someone makes to gain anything of value, including money, property, sexual favors, and promotions. Blackmailing can describe any act in which one person threatens another with some type of punishment if the latter does not agree to the former’s demands. The punishment can include stolen property, divulged information that would harm the person’s reputation, or bodily harm to the individual or a loved one. Many courts see blackmail as a form of extortion, and thus treat them with the same penalties.


Larceny is another type of extortion. It describes the theft of someone else’s personal property, with intent to convert the property to fit the perpetrator’s own use. In some states, “blackmail by a private individual” is technically larceny, under expanded extortion laws. Larceny differs from another theft term, embezzlement, in that larceny refers to the carrying away of property, in which the perpetrator never had the property in question. Embezzlement refers to the perpetrator possessing the property and then converting it for his/her own use.


Georgia law generally treats cases of blackmail or larceny similarly to broader extortion claims. Georgia statute does not separate these three types of theft from one another in terms of penalties – it only refers to extortion, punishable with the prison time mentioned above. A “theft by extortion” charge can therefore encompass blackmail, larceny, embezzlement, or a number of other types of theft by intimidation or threats.

If you or a loved one recently received any type of extortion, blackmail, or larceny charge, seek help from a knowledgeable defense attorney right away. There is no time to waste, as these are serious crimes in the eyes of Georgia law and come with severe penalties. There are potential defenses to extortion, including the defendant’s incapacity, insanity, or intoxication. A lawyer might also be able to argue that the defendant acted under duress, entrapment, or necessity, or that the prosecution has a mistake of fact. Speaking to a criminal lawyer right away can help you start defending yourself and protecting your rights without delay.