People often think of bribery as something that only applies to politicians. That could be because there have been so many high-profile cases of elected officials accepting money from a builder or someone else in exchange for awarding them a lucrative contract.

They often assume, further, that a bribe involves a bag or envelope full of money. In reality, it can be much more subtle than that. In fact, too many people – including business owners — get involved in bribery schemes without fully understanding that they’re breaking the law. Employees of a company can also become compromised.

It’s common for a business to send their best clients pricey holiday gifts as a show of appreciation for their past patronage and in the hope of retaining their business. Those would likely just be considered gifts under the law – assuming the client is in the U.S.

When is a gift considered bribery?

Under the law, anyone who offers or gives something of value in exchange for doing something (either in the public or private sector) can be charged with bribery. So can a person who solicits or receives something of value if their intention was to do something in return for it.

Note that the transaction doesn’t have to be completed for both sides to be charged with a crime. It’s the intention that’s key.

It’s also essential to understand that bribery doesn’t have to involve cash. As we noted, it can be anything of value, including courtside Lakers tickets, a job for a family member and other things.

How are kickbacks related to bribery?

Kickbacks are often associated with bribes. A kickback is when someone gives a person or company an unfair advantage in exchange for getting a portion of the proceeds. An example would be a public official who awards someone a lucrative contract in exchange for a portion of the proceeds made off of that contract.

If you’re presented with an offer that you’re concerned could be illegal, it’s probably best to trust your instincts and err on the side of caution. Too often, people who are new to a position find that their predecessor was involved in bribery and/or kickbacks and that the same is expected of them by the others involved in the scheme.

If you’re under investigation or facing charges, you should seek legal help immediately. You could be looking at some serious consequences.