Extortion Should Not Be a Cost of Doing Business

When you think of extortion, it’s normally gangsters and dark alleys that come to mind. But extortion is still a real problem for some small business owners. Find out how this crime works and get tips on protecting yourself.

One normally associates extortion with old gangster movies on TV, but unfortunately for some small business people, extortion is still a current-day crime.

The FBI has issued a warning that small business owners, primarily of Asian descent, are being targeted by extortionists who threaten them by telephone after gleaning personal information about them from the Internet.

The threats, which the FBI said appear to be from foreign countries, come in the form of the business owners being lead to believe that the extortionists know personal information about them.

The FBI has not released information on how many people have reported the threats or whether any money has been paid out. The FBI said that they are not aware of any resulting violence at this point.

Extortion is not limited to Asian business people and Internet-related extortion is not a new phenomenon. As many small businesses are doing more and more business online, the cyber-criminals are following the trail.

There have been reported extortion attempts against business people who received e-mails with their customer information attached. The extortionists demand money or they will expose the information to competitors and the customers themselves, who would not be happy to discover their business information published on the web.

In some cases the crimes were committed by hacker-cyber-criminals and in other cases the crime was committed by a disgruntled and/or dishonest employee.

Law enforcement agencies have also reported cases where cyber-criminals have threatened businesses with “Denial of Service” cyber- attacks if money was not given over. The cyber-crooks are becoming very sophisticated and their threats also include disruption of online services by crashing the business person’s web site by bombarding the site with data packets of e-mails or web requests.

Of course some extortionists prefer the old fashioned way. The police in Omaha recently arrested a 19-year-old-man who is accused of extortion at several businesses in the central part of the city.

Store owners told a local TV news station that the man barged into their stores and demanded they pay money for protection. Businesses that refused to pay the young criminal ended up with smashed windows.

The 19-year-old was charged with six counts of attempted extortion and one count of making terroristic threats.

Extortion has traditionally been committed by organized crime. The crime organizations have used extortion of businesses as a good, steady source of income for years, especially restaurants, bars and nightclubs.

And with violent street gangs on the rise, law enforcement has warned of drug gangs also getting into the act. Gangs claim sections of neighborhoods as their territory and they demand extortion payments from local businesses.

Last year in Northeast Los Angeles federal, state and local law enforcement performed a massive raid on 70 members of the notorious Drew Street Gang. Among the crimes of drug-trafficking, attacks against police officers, murder, and witness intimidation, the gang members were also accused of extortion of local businesses.

“The case highlights a progressive law enforcement model in which federal authorities join with their local counterparts to quickly investigate and charge significant numbers of gang members in order to remove them from neighborhoods they have plagued for long periods of time,” said Thomas P. O’Brian, the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California.

According to the authorities the Drew Street gang controlled drug-trafficking activity and, to a significant degree, all manner of life in the area surrounding the intersection of Drew Street and Estara Avenue. Gang members collected extortion payments from area businesses. In one incident, the gang leader demanded extortion payments from the owners of two businesses in the neighborhood. The gang leader and two other gang members told a victim that he was required to pay $30,000 or they would kill him and burn his businesses.

The Los Angeles Police Department said they developed a three-prong strategy to bring the Drew Street neighborhood back to law-abiding residents. The arrests were phase one and the second phase was to deploy a mobile command center and hold community meetings. Phase three is an ongoing government presence in the neighborhood, with police walking the streets and workers conducting beautification efforts.

If you are being extorted call the police immediately. While it’s true the police can’t protect you all the time, it is also true that extortionists are insatiable. They will keep coming back for payment after payment. It never ends.

Join and work with police, business and neighborhood associations. There is truly safety in numbers. By being an active member of a local association you will be kept abreast of local criminal activity, including extortion.

Extortion should not be a cost of doing business. It’s a crime.

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