As one old saying goes, three people can keep a secret as long as two of them are dead. Another method for insuring a person's silence or discretion is a form of bribery known as hush money. A corrupt politician may offer hush money to a staff member who discovers an illegal bribe, for example. The amount of cash should be substantial enough to convince the other party to remain silent about the incident or to suffer from selective memory loss if questioned.
Hush money is rarely identified as such, because acknowledging the offering of a bribe in exchange for a witness' silence could also be construed as criminal activity. Instead, the guilty or embarrassed party could qualify the cash payment as an employee's performance bonus, short-term loan or a generous and unconditional gift. The recipient of such hush money is generally expected to remain discreet about the true reasons for the sudden largesse or windfall. Hush money is often transferred under very private circumstances, and generally with little to no paper trail.
Offering hush money in order to cover up an illegal or immoral act can be a very tricky proposition for the offender. Another interested party could offer the recipient even more money in exchange for the information he or she still holds. The recipient may become offended by the indecent offer to buy his or her silence and still report the activity to authorities or other interested parties. A recipient of hush money may also decide he or she needs additional funds in order to remain silent. Thus the recipient of hush money can easily become a blackmailer in his or her own right.
Hush money is often used to keep an illegal act or shameful secret hidden from public scrutiny in the media or private scrutiny involving employers or family members. An unfaithful husband may offer hush money in order to prevent news of the affair from reaching his spouse, for example. A drug-addicted celebrity may offer his personal assistant hush money to prevent the media from publicizing his behavior, or a corrupt politician may offer hush money to a staff member who witnesses an indiscretion.
All of these offenders must believe they have offered enough financial incentive for the recipient to remain silent no matter who may interrogate them later. Quite often, however, the threat of imprisonment or heavy fines becomes greater than the benefits provided by hush money and the recipient becomes much more willing to reveal what he or she knows to the proper authorities. This is the ultimate risk one takes when dealing with hush money or other methods used to buy a person's silence.