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The point is, by moving assets offshore, you regain control. Within the United States, you must play according to federal rules – rules that get a little less citizen-oriented every year. Offshore, there are entire jurisdictions organized to play by your rules. You design the game, and you get to be the winner
There are major concerns concerning privacy. You will hear a staggering number of horror stories from people whose lives have been indelibly marked by corporate and governmental intrusion.
If you’re like many Americans, you probably assume that the Constitution ensures your unalienable right to privacy. Unfortunately, you’re wrong. The Fourth Amendment – the national guarantee most often cited when people talk about confidentiality – specifies only that “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause….”
The men of 1787 who drafted this legal tenet clearly meant to protect privacy as it pertained to property. They wanted a right to unthreatened ownership of land and personal possession. Our founding fathers lived in a world where people shared common norms of morality. They didn’t need to sort through the questions that plague a global information-service economy. They didn’t need to worry about how one man might decide to use (or share) private financial information about another. They didn’t foresee an era in which sophisticated communication systems could instantaneously interact, calling up, comparing and exchanging information about you or me within a matter of several seconds.
In other words, they didn’t foresee the 21st century post 9 /11. Today, the greatest threat to your individual privacy has nothing to do with property theft.
It has to do with access to information about you and your activities. Where you live and work, the names of your children, your medical and psychiatric history, your arrest record, the phone numbers you dial, the amount of money you earn, the way you earn it, and how you report it to Uncle Sam after if s yours – these are the information tidbits that will undoubtedly remain stored in lots of different places as long as you keep your money within U.S. borders.
An offshore financial involvement offers you and your family the one and only escape from this government-endorsed conspiracy. Just as you can legitimately make more money oversees than you could ever hope to earn in this country, you can also look forward to enjoying your foreign profits in an atmosphere of complete confidentiality. In money havens scattered from Hong Kong west to Aruba and south to the Netherlands Antilles, you can benefit from iron-clad secrecy laws that strictly forbid any bureaucratic review of your personal financial records. That means you can legally guard your assets from the overzealous inspection that has become part and parcel of U.S. banking and investment portfolio management.
If you’re like most upper- and middle-income Americans, the federal government alone maintains nearly 150 separate files on you. According to one recent analysis, Uncle Sam currently has computer tabs on 10 billion files, a virtual treasure trove through which an army of eager bureaucrats can search and snoop. The state in which you reside probably holds another dozen or so active computer files on you. And the Census Bureau routinely updates its records. Any minute of any day, its computer system can spit out your basic data: sex, race, ethnic origin, marital status, employment situation and place in the household pecking order. Most important, it can legally pass any or all of that information along to other interested branches of government.
Then, of course, there’s the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS knows how much money you make, and where it comes from. The Social Security Administration probably knows more than you do about your employment earnings history. If you served in the armed forces, you’re permanently listed in the archives of the Veterans Administration as well as your service branch.
Are you a borrower? If so, then at least one credit bureau (and probably several) keeps a file on you. Lenders nationwide can request from any one of these independent business operations a slew of information about your income, debts, employment history, marital status, tax liens, judgments, arrests and convictions.
Still another category of consumer investigation companies collect information about the health habits and lifestyles of likely employment and insurance applicants. How do these agencies get their information? Mainly from the friends, neighbors, employers, landlords and other casual professional associates of those they are investigating.
What does the law have to say about this blatant invasion of privacy? What are your rights when it comes to keeping your financial life confidential?
You don’t have many. And the ones you do have are steadily eroding. The bottom line is that while the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized your constitutional right to privacy in some cases, it has repeatedly failed to extend that right to “informational privacy.” In other words, you have very limited ability to curtail the collection, exchange or use of information about you or your personal financial situation.
There are, in fact, laws that authorize the invasion of your privacy. One of them is The Bank Secrecy Act of 1970 (Public Law 91-508). Its name is a deceptive misnomer because instead of protecting confidentiality, it gives our government outrageous authority to review and investigate personal and business bank accounts. The law requires all U.S. banks to maintain records of deposit slips and the front and back of all checks drawn over $100. Since it would cost so much to keep these records on hand, banks are allowed to routinely microfilm all your checks – regardless of value. So they do. All of them!
The law also demands that banks maintain records of any credit extension (other than a real estate mortgage) that exceeds $5,000. Banks must report all cash transactions, deposits or withdrawals, in excess of $10,000. They are required to ask you for your Social Security number or taxpayer identification number before any new checking or savings account can be opened. If you do not supply this number within 45 days of the request, your name, address, and account numbers are put on a list for inspection by the Treasury Department.
Even more to the point, you would wonder why any American with the economic option of moving offshore and into an atmosphere of utter financial privacy would choose to.
Better and there are plenty of foreign financial centers willing to make you an offer that’s hard to refuse.
To ensure your own financial privacy, you must do two things. First, you must minimize the amount of information that gets created about you. Second, you need to verify and limit access to the information that already exists.
That may sound like elementary advice, but remember, the experts say that we ourselves provide government and private industry with most of the data they maintain on us. In fact, one study concludes that more than 72 percent of the time, investigators obtains their information from the very people they are monitoring.
So, out of respect for the fact that you will probably want to keep some portion of your assets within the United States, take a minute and consider ways that you can protect yourself from unnecessary invasion of privacy. Just to get you thinking along the right track, here are some practical suggestions.
First, be aware that that not all domestic bank are alike. They all fall under U.S. banking regulations, but some are more privacy-oriented than others. For example, a number of financial institutions have recently started photographing and fingerprinting customers before completing even the most routine transactions. Don’t do business with that kind of place! Instead, look for a bank that’s willing to ensure the highest possible level of financial confidentiality.
A good way to identify the right institution is to ask for a written contract that sets down the ground rules for your professional relationship. Make sure your contract includes at least these two provisions: the bank must notify you whenever anyone asks to see your records; and you reserve the right to periodically see and correct any records the bank may keep on you.
A second rule of thumb is to conduct low-profile banking. Think about it. By reviewing nothing more than your monthly checking account statement, an investigating agent could learn a lot about you – where you shop, the restaurants you frequent, the names of friends and relatives, your religious and political affiliations, even the private clubs at which you have a membership. In essence, the account provides a panoramic view of your everyday lifestyle.
You should aim to reduce the clarity of that view. For instance, use your checking account for only ordinary, everyday expenses – mortgage or rent payments, utility bills, car loans. Then, for more sensitive purchases, open and maintain a second account – preferably offshore. Better yet, handle these through a registered trade name. Simply set-up a company and conduct your discreet transactions through its checking account. It’s easy to implement this strategy. Your business must be registered, of course, either at the county or state level (or both). It’s perfectly legal as long as you register it and use it without intent to defraud, and it will give you a flexible, low-key way to legitimately preserve your privacy.
To keep a low profile, you should probably avoid the wide array of privacy-insurance gimmicks that are around these days. Ultimately, things like invisible ink (meant to protect your checks from the bank’s photocopy machine) and red checks (again, intended to limit reproduction) are only going to work against you because they bring attention to you and your account. That’s not your goal. You want to preserve privacy, so, you must try to blend in, become invisible within a system that constantly searches for the slightest deviation from routine procedure.
When it comes to investments, be forewarned that some – like interest on bank accounts and dividends from a brokerage account – are automatically reported to the government. Others are known only to brokers, bankers, and fund managers. Still others are not reported to anyone. Within this last (and most appealing) category, there are a number of sub-divisions. For example, information about your commodity futures, options, and non-dividend-paying stocks must be made available for disclosure, but only if someone asks for it. Data relevant to a foreign bank account is reportable to the government, but you are the one who reports it. And investments such as municipal bonds, gold and silver, foreign currency, diamonds, art and other collectibles are not reportable to anyone, not necessarily known to anyone, and not available for disclosure until the investment is sold.
Again when it comes to investment, consider the benefits of working through a registered trade name. Brokerage firms accept corporate accounts, and these accounts are used by individuals as well as by large corporations. A professional corporation can trade under its own name, and if titled properly, will ensure the anonymity of the real owner. You should know that your privacy is maintained only at the trading level. Outsiders can still gain access if the brokerage firm chooses to reveal the true owner.
To maintain financial and personal privacy in your correspondence, consider renting a post office box. This, together with a registered trade name, can do a lot to ensure at least a significant amount of confidentiality.
Finally, keep tabs on your credit records. There are about two thousand separate credit bureaus in this country, and they all carry data that could potentially be used against you. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you can demand to know what is in your file. If you disagree with any of the information you find in it, you can insist that another investigation be done. If that second go-around doesn’t resolve the matter, you can enter your own statement of explanation as a permanent part of the credit file.
Within the United States, it’s possible to work like a dog, diligently and ferociously safeguarding the limited privacy that our legal system still allows. Frankly, the incredibly rich don’t need to bother. They’re already protected by sophisticated investment plans – usually they include offshore involvements. The very poor don’t make much effort either. They’re too busy making ends meet, and Uncle Sam isn’t vigorous in pursuit of information about them. They don’t have enough money to make it worth his while. Finally, of course, there are the very crooked. They don’t spend time protecting a legal right to privacy because illegal activity keeps them pretty well-occupied and camouflaged.
That still leaves a lot of people. People like you whose level of success makes them aware of how the government systematically deprives them of personal financial privacy but who hesitate to take any drastic action.
By moving a portion of your money offshore, you can give yourself an immediate escape valve. You can stop chasing that elusive goal of onshore privacy, and in the process, you can walk away from the frustration and aggravation that are part of that quest.
You can find out what life is like on the other side of excessive government regulation and bureaucratic red tape. You can, for the first time in your life, discover what true financial freedom feels like.
If you want to design an international investment plan that’s tailored to your specific needs, you must establish a one-on-one, professional relationship with an experienced offshore financial consultant. When it comes to structuring a foreign involvement that’s sensitive to your genuine concerns about privacy, the same advice holds true.
Nevertheless, there are four basic privacy benefits that apply to almost every offshore venture and can be, implemented in virtually any foreign financial center.
Domestic banks are in bad shape – worse shape, in fact, than most foreign banks. More banks failed in last number of years than at any other time since the depths of the Great Depression. Of course, your money is insured by the FDIC, but what would happen in the event of a universal banking crisis? Federal agencies could never handle the massive run on banks that would ensue. Having some money tucked away, in a safe and secure foreign account may be just
Remember, too, that in times of trouble, governments tend to persecute the financially independent by means of price controls, rationing, foreign-exchange controls, prohibition of foreign accounts, confiscation of property, and high taxes. War, and sometimes just the threat of war, can bring with it the sting of government restrictions.
History has also taught that discrimination can rise up and attack even the powerful within a society. At various times, in various places, Jews, Blacks, Asians, Protestants, Catholics and many others have been singled out for disdain. Unfortunately, governments are not immune to their own prejudice. Under federal authority, people around the world have had their property taken away. Sometimes they have also been imprisoned and even killed.
That’s why smart investors living in politically and socially explosive countries often keep the bulk of their money offshore. Overriding (and rational) fears of government expropriation push them into a no-choice position. As Americans, we can be far less fearful. Nevertheless, there is growing concern about creeping federal authority over individual economic liberty. As a result, quiet transfers of money and assets have become common.
If the essence of financial privacy means limiting the information that is available about you, then it seems wise to act before the fact. Don’t wait until a period of unrest brings you and your assets under federal scrutiny. By then, it will be too late. You won’t be able to protect what you’ve got because Uncle Sam will probably decide to “protect” it for you.
If you have the proper government credentials and just $ 150, you can gather the following information and material on just about anyone: checks (both front and back copies), bank statements, signature cards, loan applications, deposit and withdrawal slips, and all bank communications. Even more to the point, you can get it without your suspect ever knowing about the probe.
Domestic banks typically release records in the event of civil litigation, court proceedings, and in some IRS audits. A private foreign bank, on the other hand, can protect you from any such invasion. By owning your own offshore bank, for instance, you ensure that all your financial decisions (and the papers that authorize them) are beyond the reach of domestic rules and regulations. Provided your dealings are structured as bank transactions rather than as individual or corporate ones, Uncle Sam has limited authority over the size or frequency of your transactions.
One of the most important privacy benefits you get from an offshore involvement is protection against overly aggressive competitors. Countless fights have taken place in U.S. courtrooms, many of them involving large sums of money and vengeful antagonists. The inclination to sue at the least provocation is on the verge of becoming an epidemic. And the likeliest targets are the people with the most money.
Let’s say you become involved in a business situation that ultimately leads to a lawsuit. If you bank within the United States, a court may award your competitor legal access to any or all of your financial records. In the process, your privacy may be seriously jeopardized. If, however, your records are kept offshore, they are impervious to court orders.
Another important benefit involves the right to maintain a healthy distance between creative ideas and your competitors. For example, let’s say you have a formula or patent that you want to protect. If you decide to copyright the idea here, you must disclose it to the Copyright Office, Immediately; your million-dollar concept becomes part of the public domain. Before you have time to establish a firm market, the idea can be reformulated with minor revisions and translated into your strongest competition.
Instead of going to the appropriate onshore office to file your formula, why not convert it into financial information? Call it “the exhibit to an agreement between a scientist and the formula’s owner.” If the formula’s owner just happens to be an offshore entity, the exhibit is likely to be protected under the bank secrecy laws of the foreign jurisdiction.
Have you ever been the target of ugly gossip or intentional misinformation? It’s sometimes based on nothing – just lies and innuendo. Other times, the story has a kernel (or more) of truth. And that’s even more difficult to handle.
Most of us have a few skeletons in our closet. When it comes to financial privacy, however, those bones take on particularly ghoulish contour. Past mistakes – from car repossession to a personal bankruptcy, draft evasion, or a minor criminal record – can haunt you for a very long time. Credit bureaus maintain all their information for at least seven years; and often for even longer.
The truth is, we do not live in a perfect world. People do not dismiss the past from the present. They are not willing to judge associates only on the grounds of firsthand experience. If, for whatever reason, you are interested in separating your past from you present.
Financial privacy is a must. You will never have it within the domestic financial environment. Offshore centers, however, can guarantee that today is what matters. Yesterday is essentially irrelevant.
There is a more subtle concern that some people have about separating their personal identities. Even if they have no past mistake to hide, they want (and need) to make a clear distinction between various current financial involvements. For example, doctors have a very particular professional image in this society. To protect their medical practice they must appear above and beyond many of the investment projects that the rest of us can implement.
What would you think of a doctor who decided to invest in a bar? Probably not much. Yet he has every right to experiment with profitable ventures. By handling his affairs offshore, he can keep a desirable distance between his Manhattan medical practice and his Miami Beach bar and grill.
Privacy is a relative concern. It can mean virtually nothing to one person while it means everything to the next. Only hermits know complete confidentiality, and they pay a high price for it. They’re isolated from everything. Nobody knows anything about them but, then, they don’t know about anybody or anything.
Most of us don’t want privacy when it costs that much. At the same time, very few of us want to just hand-over the details of our financial lives to the government. Instead, we want some middle-ground, some halfway point between hyper-sensitive secrecy and flagrant economic exposure.
Offshore banking can help you regain control your personal and financial privacy.
It is an option in the post 9 /11 era that you should take seriously for yourself and your family’s financial and personal privacy.