Imagine you’re cruising down the highway, top down, your favorite song on the radio. Then you notice the blinking lights behind you. You get pulled over for doing 80 in a 65 mph zone.
The officer asks permission to search your vehicle with his police dog. You consent. After all, you have nothing to hide. But there is a wad of cash – maybe money you’ve just taken out of the bank – in your glove compartment. And the sniffer dog alerts his officer that there’s a trace of cocaine residue on some of the bills.
Of course, it’s not from you. Who knows where those filthy dollars have been? But it’s enough for the officer to remove your own cash from your possession in an act of “civil forfeiture.”
"Civil forfeiture" is a legal procedure in which police can seize your property without accusing – much less convicting – you of any crime. The civil forfeiture racket raises billions of dollars for federal, state, and local governments every year. And its spread throughout the US legal system is one of the very best reasons I know to diversify your assets internationally.
Civil forfeiture advocates justify the practice because it supposedly strips drug kingpins and other criminals of their ill-gotten gains. But, in almost all cases, the seizing agency gets to keep the money it confiscates, creating a bounty hunter mentality throughout every layer of the law enforcement system.
For this reason, civil forfeiture laws are especially popular with cash-strapped police agencies. And predictably, such “policing for profit” has led to horrific abuses.
Voters in a few states have tried to reign in civil forfeiture laws. For instance, a 2000 ballot initiative in Utah forced cops to turn over forfeited property to the state, rather than keeping it for themselves. Civil forfeitures plummeted, and one county prosecutor admitted, "Doing forfeitures is way down the line in my priorities."
If civil forfeiture exists only to separate criminals from their ill-gotten gains, wouldn’t you expect police to not care who gets the money? Well, that’s not how it works in the real world.
Quietly, unanimously, and with no debate, legislators in Utah recently “recodified” the state’s civil forfeiture laws. The new law guts all the important protections voters approved in 2000.
Policing for profit is back in Utah. No doubt that makes Utah cops and prosecutors happy.
It also means Utah residents – and anyone travelling or doing business there – are vulnerable. You can expect cases like that of Emiliano Gomez Gonzolez, who had the misfortune of being stopped by cops in Nebraska – a state where police get to keep what they seize. State troopers found bundles of currency totaling $124,700 in his car.
Police seized all the money, alleging that it was the proceeds of drug trafficking. Gonzolez tried to get it back in court but lost his case, despite the fact that police found no drugs, drug paraphernalia, or drug records connected to the cash. Nor was he ever accused of any crime. And the Nebraska cops kept it all, less a 20% commission paid to the feds for their assistance in prosecuting the case.
If that’s the shape of things to come, you can only imagine what other nasty things lie just around the corner – making it a little harder for you to keep what’s rightfully yours.
As you’ll no doubt guess, my preferred solution lies offshore. Here are just seven of my favorite ways to “go international” in 2014…
- Get an offshore bank account: Yes, it’s gotten harder, but it’s not impossible. In fact, we’re currently working with three offshore banks with low account minimums that allow Americans to set up accounts without an on-site visit and, in one case, electronically. And while some countries will enforce US civil forfeiture orders, these agreements all require proof of some actual underlying criminal conduct. For this reason, an offshore account is one of the best ways to avoid “policing for profit.” (Offshore Freedom Inner Circle members are welcome to contact our member services team to get a referral. Not yet a member? Click here to fix that in the next two minutes.)
- Create a truly private offshore “stash.” You’re legally required to tell Uncle Sam about your offshore bank accounts, but there are other international investments you can still hold privately. For instance, offshore real estate can still be a non-reportable investment. And it’s obviously beyond the reach of the domestic “forfeiture squads.” If you care about your privacy, move some of your wealth offshore into such a non-reportable asset.
- Consider a legal residence offshore: It takes a bit of time, but it’s easy to do with the right help. Best of all, there are multiple jurisdictions – within a short flight of most places in North America – that offer great get-out-of-Dodge options without the need to actually reside in the country or pay any non-locally earned tax.
- Put that second passport on your early Christmas wish list: For the ultimate insurance policy, consider a second citizenship and the passport that comes along with it. But if you want to wrap it up before the end of the year, now’s the time to get started. The reputable (i.e., legitimate) economic citizenship programs take anywhere from six to nine months from start to finish.
- Go “radio silent”: Make it harder for those three-letter agencies to follow you around by going “dark.” That means finding a reputable virtual private network (VPN) provider that will help you travel around the Internet with no one (spook, criminal, etc.) looking over your shoulder. As always, my preferred source is Cryptohippie, run by my friend Paul Rosenberg.
- Protect your online email privacy: That starts by keeping your stored emails out of the US. The Offshore Freedom Inner Circle runs such a service for our clients that is based in Zurich, Switzerland, but any non-US service with reasonable security precautions will do. As always, do your research. As amazing as it might sound, there are plenty of so-called “offshore service providers” that ultimately rely on US-based services, such as the Amazon cloud.
- Earn as much as $100,000 offshore each year, tax-free. This is possible thanks to a little-known section of the US Tax Code. There is a catch: You have to actually live offshore to take advantage of this law, and only income from wages or employment qualifies – not passive income. But if you comply with the rules, this is a great way to get yourself – and your income – out of the US legally tax-free.
While other New Year’s resolutions fall by the wayside, your decision to go offshore and protect what’s rightfully yours need not. And remember, I’ll be with you all along the way.