Tag Archives: privacy cash


In terms of privacy, cash is unrivalled – to a point. It is highly portable. It is accepted worldwide for just about any purchase (provided you have the correct local currency). And, best of all, it does not in itself leave behind a trace of you. Once issued, there are no records of transfers and it is defined as being a “bearer” instrument. This simply means whoever holds cash is presumed to be the rightful owner of it. In most countries, this has led to a special “cash rule” law being passed which asserts that stolen cash tracked down should not be returned to its rightful owner after it has been spent. A merchant who, in good faith, accepts stolen cash for his goods or services from a bank robber does not risk being asked to return it.
The distinction is a crucial one. Let us say, for instance, that someone breaks into the Louvre Museum in Paris and steals the Mona Lisa. This, obviously, does not mean that the painting is now his – just as a bank robber does not automatically gain legal ownership of the loot the second he rushes out of the bank. If the art thief then sells the painting it does not follow that the buyer gains legal ownership of it – after all, it is still stolen property. No matter how many times a piece of stolen property is bought and resold, it legally remains the property of the owner from whom it was stolen. This means that if the property is ever recovered it will be returned to whence it was stolen although certain countries, including Italy, make an exception to this rule if a buyer of stolen property acted ‘in good faith’. This leads to some highly amusing international court battles where authorities in one country implore their colleagues in another to force the “good faith” – buyer of a stolen object to return it.
If you take 1000 dollars, pounds or francs from your bank account and go spend it on something, there is no paper trail of what you did with it – only the fact that you signed a receipt for it and went away. You should, however, note that keeping purchase receipts for something you buy with cash is potentially culpable. A few years ago, the singer-come-actress Barbara Streisand returned to the United States from a holiday in Japan. On examining her luggage (yes, celebrities are also harassed) two items of interest were found by the customs officials – a pair of fancy boots and a US $700 dollar cash receipt for said boots. As this exceeded the amount of foreign-purchased goods she could legally bring into the US without declaring it, good old Babs had to pay the duty and a fine. Needless to say, authorities issued a public statement informing the world press of their catch of a “celebrity-smuggler”, presumably to inhibit others from perpetrating the same crime.
Still, the fact remains that only cash may be handed over in exchange for goods or service without leaving anyone except the seller in a position to make a permanent record of it – and, again, watch out for what you do with any “cash receipt” given you. As a rule of thumb you may safely discard such receipts when the seller has delivered his end of the bargain unless you envisage later finding yourself in a position to prove that you are the rightful owner of whatever you bought. If you hold an absolutely top secret meeting with someone you are not supposed to be seeing in a restaurant, for instance, someone finding the receipt may investigate by turning up at the restaurant and get you identified by showing pictures of you or your contact to the maitre d\ This may be highly damaging if, for instance, you are under a court order not to meet nor speak to a witness in a civil or criminal case. Golden Cash Rule number one: unless it is highly possible that you will be required to present them at a later date, discard immediately and safely (by burning, flushing out in the toilet or similar) any cash receipts that you get. What should Barbara have done? Worn the boots and mailed that receipt to herself before leaving Japan, of course. Or paid the seven per cent duty!