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Protecting your personal privacy is a lifestyle choice. Developing the habits and practices that are conducive to privacy give you more control over which aspects of your life are made known to whom. One key way to do this is to use cash for as many transactions as possible.
Benefits Of Using Cash
One of the biggest returns on privacy for the effort invested to gain privacy is probably by using cash for as many transactions as possible, whether it is payment or receipt of funds. The paper trail which follows such transactions vanishes into anonymity when you use cash. It is almost impossible to link you to a transaction, whether you are looking at your own financial records or the records of a merchant. All reporting requirements for tax and other purposes should still be followed, but even this only reveals some information about the aggregate amount of cash that has changed hands.
The benefits to the average person can be enormous. In the unfortunate event that your bank records or statements are compromised, the cash transactions will appear only as withdrawals or deposits and there will be no way of telling where that money came from or went. The more cash transactions, the fewer the bits of information that are available from looking at your statements. Using cash instead of credit or debit cards also keeps the damage from compromised statements to a minimum. However, with credit card companies, not using them to make purchases, or carefully selecting which purchases to make with a credit card, also means that your transaction information will not be in the hands of marketers and other affiliates of the credit card company. If you are really sneaky you could carefully craft which expenses you pay with credit cards and which ones you pay with cash so that marketers and anyone else who has access to your purchases will only have the profile that you yourself have painted.
An Unfortunate Example
A rather dramatic example of how one should use cash to make a purchase is found in the experience of Sally Harpold. She was prosecuted under Indiana state drug laws for purchasing one box of Zyrtec for her husband and, a few days later, one box of Mucinex for her daughter. Both medications are available over-the-counter, but the Indiana law prohibits the purchase of more than a certain amount of medicine containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine within a seven-day period. Without her knowledge, she had purchased two medications which, combined, exceeded the statutory limit. Although she had never had legal trouble before, had no intent to commit a crime, and was not committing an act that is wrong or immoral in and of itself, she was prosecuted. In order to have her record expunged, she was forced to pay for the cost of the criminal prosecution.
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This extremely bad decision by county prosecutor Nina Alexander to enforce a poorly worded law in a manner which was never intended would have been avoided had Mrs. Harpold made one or both of those purchases with cash. A cash transaction would have left the purchase of the over the counter medication in this example completely anonymous, impossible to connect to Mrs. Harpold.
There are some caveats to using cash as often as possible. Cash is almost impossible to recover if stolen so having enough cash on hand to pay your expenses can raise security concerns. Also, banks and other institutions must file Currency Transaction Reports for any transaction or series of transactions that are greater than $10,000. They also file Suspicious Activity Reports if they think that your cash transaction is somehow suspicious.
One of the most effective ways to protect privacy is to use cash for as many transactions as possible. This will go a long way to protecting both your personal and financial privacy and may even keep you out of jail.
Reprinted with permission from How to Vanish.
December 15, 2010
Bill Rounds, J.D. is a California attorney. He holds a degree in Accounting from the University of Utah and a law degree from California Western School of Law. He practices civil litigation, domestic and foreign business entity formation and transactions, criminal defense and privacy law. He is a strong advocate of personal and financial freedom and civil liberties. This is merely one article of 73 by Bill Rounds J.D.