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Theft and Extortion: Analyzing Differences

Theft (Section 378 IPC)

According to Section 378 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, Theft is intentionally removing any movable property from the possession of its rightful owner without their consent and with the intention of depriving them of it.

In accordance with Section 379, individuals who commit theft will face a sentence of up to three years in prison or a fine, or both.

Examples of Theft:

  • Shoplifting is a form of theft which refers to the act of taking items from a store without paying for them.
  • Pickpocketing is a theft which involves stealing someone's wallet or phone from their pocket or bag without their knowledge.
  • Car theft involves taking someone else's car without their permission.
  • Petty theft refers to stealing small items or money, such as stealing candy from a store or taking loose change from a tip jar.
  • Identity theft is the illegal acquisition of someone's personal information, such as their credit card number or social security number, in order to commit fraud or theft.
  • Employee theft involves taking money or merchandise from an employer without permission.
  • Cyber theft is the act of hacking into someone's online accounts or computer systems to steal data or money.
  • Theft by deception refers to tricking someone into giving you their property or money under false pretenses.

When Theft Turns Into Extortion:

A transition from theft to extortion occurs when the perpetrator not only illegally takes something, but also employs threats or force to compel the victim to give something of worth in return for the stolen item or to prevent further harm. For example, if an individual steals confidential information from a corporation and then demands payment in exchange for not making it public, this would be classified as extortion. In essence, extortion involves exploiting the victim's fear of repercussions to obtain something valuable, while theft is simply the act of taking without consent.

Extortion (Section 383 IPC)

Intentionally causing fear of harm to an individual or another in order to fraudulently persuade the person in fear to provide or deliver any property or valuable asset, or a signed or sealed item convertible into a valuable asset, constitutes extortion.

Let's say someone threatens to publish compromising images of an individual unless they are paid Rs 50000. This would mean posting the photos on social media or sending them to the family and friends of the person. If the person makes the Rs 50000 payment to stop the disclosure of the photos, then this is considered as extortion.

Punishment For Extortion (Section 384 IPC):

The punishment under Section 384 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) is imprisonment for up to three years, a fine, or both. Such offense qualifies to be under Schedule I of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) deemed non-compoundable, non-bailable and cognizable. Any magistrate can try extortion cases.

Putting Person In Fear Of Injury In Order To Commit Extortion (Section 385 IPC):

Section 385 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) provides for punishment against individuals who deliberately instill fear in others with the intent of extorting them. This particular offense is classified as cognizable and bailable and can be tried by any Magistrate with jurisdiction over the matter. Those found guilty of threatening or attempting to threaten someone to extort money or property can receive a penalty of imprisonment for a maximum of two years, a fine, or both. It is important to note that this offense is non-compoundable, meaning it cannot be resolved through a compromise under Section 320 of the CrPC.

Extortion By Instilling In A Person The Fear Of Death Or Grievous Hurt (Section 386 IPC):

The IPC's Section 386 outlines the crime of extortion through threats of death or serious injury. Those convicted of this form of extortion can be imprisoned for a maximum of ten years and may also be required to pay a fine. This offense is categorized as non-bailable and cognizable. It should be noted that this offense cannot be settled through a compromise, as stated in Section 320 of the CrPC.

For The Purpose Of Extortion Putting A Person In Fear Of Death Or Grievous Hurt (Section 387 IPC):

Section 387 IPC deals with the act of instilling fear of death or serious injury in a person in order to extort from them. Those who are convicted of causing or attempting to cause fear of death or serious injury for the purpose of extortion can be sentenced to imprisonment for a maximum of seven years and a fine. This crime falls under Schedule I of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) and is considered non-bailable and cognizable. It is important to note that this offense cannot be settled through compromise under Section 320 of the CrPC.

Extortion By Threat Of Accusation Section Of An Offence Punishable With Death Or Imprisonment For Life Etc.:

Section 388 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), deals with the grave crime of extortion through the use of threats to accuse someone of a punishable offense such as death, life imprisonment, or imprisonment up to ten years, or to persuade another person to commit such an offense. Those convicted of this offense face imprisonment for a maximum of ten years and may also be fined.

However, if the threatened offense falls under Section 377 of the IPC (dealing with unnatural offenses), the punishment can be enhanced to life imprisonment. This offense falls under Schedule I of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) and is considered a cognizable and bailable offense that is tried by a Magistrate First Class. It is important to note that this offense cannot be settled outside of court under Section 320 of the CrPC.

Extortion by threatening false accusations is a serious offense that carries severe penalties due to its potential to cause significant harm to the victim's reputation and liberty. The law seeks to deter such malicious acts by imposing strict punishments. Moreover, the provision for harsher penalties if the threatened offense is related to unnatural offenses highlights the seriousness of such threats in the eyes of the law. This reflects society's need to protect vulnerable individuals from exploitation and coercion.

Putting Person In Fear Or Accusation Of An Offence, In Order To Commit Extortion:

Section 389 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) deals with the act of using fear of false accusation of serious crimes to commit extortion. Those who are found guilty of instilling or attempting to instill fear in someone by falsely accusing them of offenses punishable by death, life imprisonment, or imprisonment up to ten years, are liable to imprisonment for a maximum of ten years and may also be fined.

In cases, where the threatened offense falls under Section 377 of the IPC (unnatural offenses), the punishment may result in imprisonment for life. This offense is categorized as cognizable and bailable. It is worth noting that this offense cannot be resolved through a compromise under Section 320 of the CrPC.

Differences Between Theft And Extortion:

  • The act of theft is defined as the illegal taking of someone else's property without their consent, while extortion is the act of obtaining something (usually money or property) from someone through the use of force or intimidation.
  • In the act of theft, movable property is acquired without the owner's permission. However, in the case of extortion, consent is secured through unjustified coercion.
  • While theft is confined to movable property, extortion can involve either movable or immovable property.
  • The act of theft does not involve any use of force or coercion, while extortion requires the use of force or coercion.
  • In theft, there is a lack of fear, whereas in extortion, there is a presence of fear.
  • In theft, the victim's property is taken without their consent, as they do not willingly or voluntarily relinquish it. Conversely, in extortion, the victim hands over property, money, or valuables due to the threat of harm or other negative consequences imposed by the perpetrator.
  • For both theft and extortion, the punishment includes a maximum of 3 years imprisonment, a fine, or both, as stated in Sections 379 and 384 of IPC, respectively. However, the court is inclined to award harsher punishment in extortion than in theft.
  • There is no use of threat in theft, but threat is an essential element of extortion.
  • There is an exception of good faith in theft but there is no exception of good faith in extortion.
  • Theft is the unlawful taking of someone's property without their consent with the intent to permanently deprive them of it. Extortion is the act of obtaining something (typically money or valuables) from a victim through threats, coercion, or intimidation.
  • The primary distinction between theft and extortion lies in the method used by the perpetrator to acquire something from the victim: theft involves taking, while extortion involves threatening.
  • The act of theft typically involves physically taking or removing property from its rightful owner, while extortion involves using threats or coercion to force someone into giving up something of value.
  • In a theft, the focus is on the property being taken, while in extortion, the focus is on the use of coercion or threats to obtain something from the victim.
  • In theft, there is no consent from the owner of the property being taken, while in extortion, the victim may consent to the demands out of fear or duress.
  • The nature of theft is considered a property crime, while extortion is seen as a crime against a person's autonomy or freedom to act without coercion.
  • Penalties for theft typically depend on the value of the stolen property and may include fines, restitution, or imprisonment. However, extortion often carries heavier penalties due to the use of coercion or threats.
  • Examples of theft may include stealing a car, shoplifting, or burglary, while examples of extortion may include demanding money in exchange for not revealing damaging information or threatening violence unless payment is made.
  • Theft may occur without any direct interaction between the thief and the victim. In instances of extortion, there is usually some form of communication between the perpetrator and the victim, where threats or demands are made.
  • The legal elements necessary to establish theft are distinct from those necessary to establish extortion. In order to prove theft, it is necessary to show that the accused knowingly took someone else's property without permission and with the intention of permanently depriving the rightful owner. On the other hand, to prove extortion, it is necessary to demonstrate that the accused threatened or pressured someone into surrendering something of worth.

Some Examples to Explain Extortion:

  • Coercion for Monetary Gain: A gang forces a small business owner to pay them a large amount of money on a regular basis by threatening them with physical harm. The gang visits the business premises, intimidates the owner, and demands payment to avoid violence. This falls under the category of extortion as per the law.
  • Blackmail for Sensitive Information: An employee of a company threatens to expose confidential information about their employer unless they are paid a significant sum of money. This information may include trade secrets, financial discrepancies, or personal scandals, which the employee uses as leverage to extort money. This act of blackmail is considered extortion.
  • Forced Transfer of Property: A group of individuals forcefully occupies land belonging to someone else and intimidates the owner with violence or property damage unless they transfer ownership to the occupiers. The use of fear to obtain the property makes this a case of extortion.
  • Online Threats for Financial Gain: A hacker gains unauthorized access to a company's computer system and demands a ransom in exchange for not releasing sensitive customer data or disrupting their services. The hacker exploits the fear of reputational damage or financial loss to extort money from the company.
  • Demands for Protection Money: A criminal syndicate operates in a specific area and extorts regular payments from local businesses in exchange for 'protection' from theft, vandalism, or other illegal activities. Those who refuse to pay may face consequences such as property damage, demonstrating the act of extortion through coercion.

Written By: Md.Imran Wahab
, IPS, IGP, Provisioning, West Bengal
Email: [email protected], Ph no: 9836576565

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