Threatening to Publish a Bad Review Unless You’re Paid Money Can Be a Criminal Act of Extortion that Gets You Sued in Colorado

Section 18-3-207, Colorado Revised Statutes (C.R.S.) is titled “Criminal extortion–aggravated extortion.” This statute criminalizes threats to harm another’s reputation under some circumstances.

People who are tempted to make such threats, to pressure others into paying them money, should avoid doing so or seek legal counsel beforehand.

People who have been threatened and fear the immediate consequences of ignoring the blackmail or not paying an extortionate demand should contact their local law enforcement agencies if they have evidence that proves someone else violated C.R.S. § 18-3-207.

People or businesses who want to learn more about cease and desist letters, demand letters, complaint letters drafted by private attorneys for public law enforcement agencies, or civil remedies they may pursue in Colorado’s courts should call our firm or other Colorado attorneys who have handled more than a handful of extortion-by-threat-of-online-defamation cases.

A copy of C.R.S. § 18-3-207’s relevant section, with key parts in italicized bold text, is quoted below:

(1) A person commits criminal extortion if:

(a) The person, without legal authority and with the intent to induce another person against that other person’s will to perform an act or to refrain from performing a lawful act, makes a substantial threat to confine or restrain, cause economic hardship or bodily injury to, or damage the property or reputation of, the threatened person or another person; and

(b) The person threatens to cause the results described in paragraph (a) of this subsection (1) by:

(I) Performing or causing an unlawful act to be performed; or

(II) Invoking action by a third party, including, but not limited to, the state or any of its political subdivisions, whose interests are not substantially related to the interests pursued by the person making the threat.

Prospective clients often contact me for consultations about their legal rights and options after a former client, former coworker, former employee, former business partner, a family member, or a former spouse has blackmailed or extorted them.

This often happens when someone has (1) demanded money or something else of value from the prospective client (2) despite having no legal authority to do so, such as a court judgment, and (3) has threatened to publish disparaging statements online if he or she doesn’t get the money.

Below are a few of the types of things these blackmailers commonly threaten to publish via popular websites or emails they threaten to send to large groups if they don’t get the money they demanded:

– False allegations of deceptive or unethical business practices
– False and disparaging statements about the quality of goods or services
– False allegations of criminal conduct
– False allegations of sexual misconduct or sexual harassment
– Embarrassing private audio or video recordings that have never been publicly disclosed
– Embarrassing private facts about someone’s private sex life that have never been publicly disclosed
– Embarrassing private facts about someone’s elective cosmetic surgery that have never been publicly disclosed
– Embarrassing private medical records or healthcare information

Under C.R.S. § 18-3-207, the act of threatening to harm a person’s or business’s reputation unless the person or business pays up is the criminal act, not the act of publishing the defamatory, disparaging, or libelous statement online. In addition to being a criminal act, a single violation of Colorado’s criminal extortion statute can also give rise to a viable civil claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress or invasion of privacy by the intrusion upon another’s seclusion. If someone violates C.R.S. § 18-3-207 several times on several different dates, his or her pattern of criminal conduct could also give rise to viable civil racketeering claims under the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act.

The combined acts of (1) publishing a harmful statement online without giving the subject of the statement advanced notice and, (2) then, offering to permanently remove or delete it as part of a settlement negotiation are legally different acts from the extortionate threats that violate C.R.S. § 18-3-207. Still, depending on the circumstances, these combined acts can give rise to actionable claims for defamation, false advertising, invasion of privacy, or trade libel (aka injurious falsehood). Under some circumstances, they might also give rise to claims based on violations of the Colorado Consumer Protection Act.

People considering publishing defamatory statements about other people or businesses should be careful not to demand money in exchange for refraining from carrying out their threats. People who have been harmed by this sort of conduct should contact their local law enforcement agencies if they have evidence that proves someone violated C.R.S. § 18-3-207. People or businesses who want legal advice on how to use civil legal tools in addition to written reports to law enforcement agencies may contact our firm to schedule consultations.

By Ed Hopkins, HopkinsWay PLLC. | © HopkinsWay PLLC 2020. All rights reserved.

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