Extortion, outwresting, or exaction is a criminal offense, which occurs, when a person unlawfully obtains either money, property or services from a person, entity, or institution, through coercion. Refraining from doing harm is sometimes euphemistically called protection. Extortion is commonly practiced by organized crime groups. The actual obtainment of money or property is not required to commit the offense. Making a threat of violence or a lawsuit which refers to a requirement of a payment of money or property to halt future violence or lawsuit is sufficient to commit the offense. Exaction refers not only to extortion or the unlawful demanding and obtaining of something through force, additionally, exact in its formal definition means the infliction of something such as pain and suffering or to make somebody endure something unpleasant.
In the United States, extortion may also be committed as a federal crime across a computer system, phone, by mail or in using any instrument of "interstate commerce". Extortion requires that the individual sent the message "willingly" and "knowingly" as elements of the crime. The message only has to be sent (but does not have to reach the intended recipient) to commit the crime of extortion.
Extortion is distinguished from blackmail. In blackmail, the blackmailer threatens to do something which would be legal or normally allowed.
Extortion is distinguished from robbery. In "strong arm" robbery, the offender takes goods from the victim with use of immediate force. In "robbery" goods are taken or an attempt is made to take the goods against the will of another—with or without force. A bank robbery or extortion of a bank can be committed by a letter handed by the criminal to the teller. In extortion, the victim is threatened to hand over goods, or else damage to their reputation or other harm or violence against them may occur. Under federal law extortion can be committed with or without the use of force and with or without the use of a weapon. A key difference is that extortion always involves a written or verbal threat whereas robbery can occur without any verbal or written threat (refer to U.S.C. 875 and U.S.C. 876).
The term extortion is often used metaphorically to refer to usury or to price-gouging, though neither is legally considered extortion. It is also often used loosely to refer to everyday situations where one person feels indebted against their will, to another, in order to receive an essential service or avoid legal consequences. For example, certain lawsuits, fees for services such as banking, automobile insurance, gasoline prices, and even taxation, have all been labeled "legalized extortion" by people with various social or political beliefs.