07 September 2009

How to protect your privacy and your gold

Question from a reader:

"I have been acquiring Perth Mint silver and gold in the depository scheme and am concerned about confiscation issues in the long term. Probably it will not happen, but again given the mindlessness of recent policy decisions there is no reason why the Australian government could not just decide to tax the gains at a punitive level – ‘because people are making unfair gains from it’ or some other vacuous reason. Seems to me the main risk is not holding bullion, but also the 'privacy risk' if you want to call it that, that the government knows that you've got it and can therefore either tax it highly or confiscate it. Are you able to make comment about how best to acquire completely private gold and silver (ie no record of the sale therefore no one knows you’ve got it and therefore can’t confiscate it), in quantities of up to 100 oz?"

The scenario you suggest is certainly probable in any country. In an environment where other assets have declined and gold is $5000, the politics of envy may come into play. Classic example of this is the Luxury Car Tax introduced in Australia in 1986. While one can expect that a populist "gold profits tax" would get support, I think it is an open question as to whether it will go down well in Western Australia considering the high profile of gold mining in this state.

As I discuss in Australian Gold Confiscation, secessionism would be "in play" in such an environment. A "gold profits tax" could be considered as an Eastern States Federalist tax grab on Western Australia's wealth, and could provide yet another reason to secede.

As to Government knowledge of your gold, note that the law only requires Australian bullion dealers to record your identity for purchases above $5000, not report them (unless you give cause for the bullion dealer to believe it is a suspicious transaction).

Therefore for the Government to confiscate, it will first need to personally visit each bullion dealer and go through their sale records. This gives you a bit of time between announcement of confiscation and a knock on your door. It is possible that the data collection will happen in advance of an announcement, but it is likely that rumors would circulate quickly.

In any case, those looking to take possession of physical gold should always consider the privacy implications. The risk here is a thief getting hold of the records of a bullion dealer or courier company. One needs to weigh up the convenience and cost of a telephone or Internet sale (which will leave records) versus a cash and carry purchase from your local bullion dealer.

The only way to protect yourself against this risk is to establish a relationship with your local bullion dealer and buy in cash under the relevant reporting/recording limit ($5000 in Australia). There is nothing illegal about buying a little gold with each pay packet, and most bullion dealers would understand that you are a prudent saver and not a drug dealer. But doing twenty $4990 transactions twenty days in a row would be considered a suspicious transaction and reportable.

For those whose personal circumstances mean the risk of theft is greater than privacy/confiscation considerations and thus choose to store their gold in a facility, just a word of warning not to get tricky with your identification. It needs to be clear to the facility operator who is the beneficial holder of the gold, otherwise you may have trouble establishing title to it (or being impersonated) in the future.

For example, even if there were no account identification requirements for bullion, the Perth Mint Depository would still want photo identification as an additional security measure. It is really the only way we can ensure that the person standing at our doors to collect your metal is you.

By way of example, a couple of years ago we had a call from a person who gave us an account number and account name and wanted to sell. However, he did not have the password, nor was he a signatory, so we could not take his instruction or reveal any details of the account. He gave us details, like purchase dates and amounts, that did correlate exactly with the account, but we couldn't confirm or deny any of that - because he was not identified on the account. He became extremely agitated, but to no avail.

It turned out that he had the account opened in the name of a company by a broker/agent of his and they were the nominee directors and signatories. This privacy mechanism may have sounded good at the time, and maybe he had some other agreement with the broker to ensure they could not abscond with his metal. However, whatever structure he put in place, he had not considered the scenario where his broker was arrested and put in jail!

Not being keen contact his broker in jail, there was no way for him to get the broker to give us an instruction. He therefore had to wait, unsure if the broker had cleaned out his account. There is a happy ending to the story, as the broker did eventually get out of jail (but it was some months) and put in the sale instruction for him. In some cases, privacy may be too much of a good thing.

1 comment:

  1. Another way to avoid confiscation of all your gold is to spread it out over several vaults in your city and register it under the name of your partner with you as the co-signatory.
    In case of theft you would then save the other parts and it will give you the opportunity to laugh a bit through your tears.