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The Ashley Madison Hack and Exposure to Extortion and Blackmail: Protecting Yourself and Understanding the Criminal Law

By now everyone who provided a credit card to Ashley Madison, a real name or an address knows that hackers have exposed their personal information. Sure, what the hackers did was wrong and illegal, but there is little to nothing anyone one of us can do about that. Instead, the issue is now how do you protect yourself from would be fraudsters and criminals who have sifted through the information posted online? What if one of these individuals contacts you? Demands money? Threatens you? Is there any recourse? What, if any, crimes have been committed? Does it matter that the information is arguably public since it has been posted? This blog entry will attempt to answer some of these questions from the perspective of the New York Penal Law. Federal violations will be discussed at a later time.

So, you made a mistake or a simple indiscretion. Maybe you merely signed up for AshleyMadison.Com to see what was out there or maybe you actively met men or women on the site. Outside of potential issues requiring the assistance of a matrimonial lawyer for a divorce, there are people in our communities, and beyond, who will attempt to maximize this data breach for their gain and your pain. One such means that may require the assistance of a criminal defense attorney and one familiar with criminal laws and procedure, is Extortion or Blackmail. In other words, if you get that call, text or email from a person known or unknown who demands money or any property or he or she will expose your alleged cheating ways to any party, you may very well be the victim of Grand Larceny by Extortion or Attempted Grand Larceny by Extortion (also called “Blackmail” although that is not the legal term).

Defining Extortion In NY Penal Law Article 155.00

The relevant section of Grand Larceny or Attempted Grand Larceny by Extortion in New York is found in New York Penal Law 155.05. NY PL 155.05(2)(e) makes it a crime of Extortion where a person gets your property (likely money) by compelling you or another person to give him or her that money (it makes no difference in what form) by instilling a fear that if the check, cash or other property is no turned over the person doing the Extortion will:

  • 155.05(2)(e)(v): Expose a secret or publicize an asserted fact, whether true or false, tending to subject some person to hatred, contempt or ridicule; or
  • 155.05(2)(e)(ix): Perform any other act which would not in itself materially benefit the actor but which is calculated to harm another person materially with respect to his health, safety, business, calling, career, financial condition, reputation or personal relationships.

Applying the AshleyMadison.Com hack and breach to NY PL Article 150.05, it is clear that if a person attempts to or actual gets money or property from you after advising if you do not provide the money her or she will expose your alleged adulterous ways, the exposure will subject you to ridicule and at a minimum it would serve no benefit to the extorter while harming your reputation and personal relationships.

How the Dollar Amount of an Extortion Matters

Generally, any Extortion of Blackmail in New York is a felony. Value is irrelevant.  New York Penal Law 155.30(6) makes it a class E felony (a Fourth Degree crime punishable by up to four years in prison) to “steal” property belonging to another person by Extortion regardless of the value. Where value comes relevant is how the the degree is enhanced. Therefore, if the value of the “theft” is in excess of $1,000.00 it is this same class E felony. If the value is in excess of $3,000.00, $50,000.00 or $1,000,000.00 then the crime is enhanced to Grand Larceny in the Third Degree (class D crime punishable by up to seven years in prison), Grand Larceny in the Second Degree (class C crime punishable by up to fifteen years in prison) and Grand Larceny in the First Degree (class B felony punishable by up to twenty five years in prison) respectively.

A few important things to understand. First, if the money is not turned over, the crime may be notched one degree less because it is considered an attempt as opposed to a completed offense. If the demand is for $35,000.00, a D felony, but you never deliver it, then the attempt makes the crime the lesser E felony. Further, the person extorting you need not live in New York. New York courts would have jurisdiction because you are located in New York State or New York City.

Your Options as an Extortion Victim

Ultimately, the choice is yours. You can go to the police directly. You can go with your attorney or on your own straight to the District Attorney’s Office. In these cases, privacy and remaining under the radar are of the utmost importance. If you are a prominent person, there is a grave concern for a leak. Another option is to attempt to handle the matter privately with investigators, a cease and desist and other legal recourse. In fact, because of our criminal attorneys’ experience as Manhattan prosecutors, we are familiar with both routes and have handled these matters on both sides of the law. Once you have sought counsel, you can make the determination which path is best for you. They need not be mutually exclusive.

Having the courage to deal with a New York Extortion crime is daunting, but necessary. You have not option but to protect yourself, your family and your assets. There is no promise that the extorter will merely stop once she or he has been paid the first time. Protect yourself, educate yourself on your rights and the laws, seek counsel and remove yourself from the victim equation as quickly and safely as you can.

Saland Law PC is a New York criminal defense firm established by two former Manhattan prosecutors. Saland Law PC’s New York Extortion defense lawyers represent clients in New York Cit, suburban counties and other metropolitan municipalities.

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