When the U.S. dollar falls in value, the price of gold and silver can usually be expected to rise. And with the dollar in free-fall as it is at the time of this writing, the trend is proceeding true to form, with gold just recently blowing past $800 an ounce. But when the gold and silver markets turn bullish and enthusiasm among investors accordingly rises, watch out! Amid every new "gold rush," you can also expect a fresh assortment of corresponding scams to appear. The last major bull market for gold and silver, the 1970's, saw scam artists abound; and this time around – especially with the proliferation of the Internet – will likely be more of the same. And although much more elaborate safeguards are doubtless in place today, the ingenuity of the modern scam artist should in no way be taken lightly or scoffed at. As the epidemic of identity theft continues to teach us, the more restrictive the means of security taken, the more ingenious the hackers, crooks, and scammers show themselves to be.

The best scams, by their very nature, are likely to seem to be good ideas, great opportunities, and pushed by exceedingly polished and professional-looking and sounding individuals. After all, would you really seriously consider buying gold through a website in which the text resembled one of those "You've just won the Foreign Lottery!" spam emails, where every other word is misspelled and the punctuation so bad that even a five-year-old would think it utterly ridiculous? Of course you wouldn't. It actually takes surprisingly little money to put up a very clean, very professional, and very bogus site for the sole purpose of extracting funds from unsuspecting would-be investors. By staying alert and using just a reasonable amount of common sense, you should be able to avoid these pitfalls without too much difficulty.

One of the more common schemes that you may run into (either by website or an unsolicited phone call) is the offer to sell you an amount of gold and store it for you as well – for an additional contracted fee, of course. And because taking physical delivery of and storing gold bullion – especially large quantities of it – can be a major undertaking itself, the arrangement would seem to the inexperienced investor to not only be convenient but also prudent. But alas, the gold – if it's even actually purchased for the investor in the first place – and the investors' money disappear into thin air, likely never to be seen or heard from again.

How can you protect yourself? Simply make certain that the entity you're doing business with has a long and verifiable track record of buying and selling gold. Your safest bet would be to deal only with a well-established Wall Street firm that's thoroughly regulated and insured. One of the best ways to do this is to check that the company is a member of the Industry Council for Tangible Assets, or ICTA. Most of the leading gold dealers belong to this organization. And although in no way a regulatory body itself, ICTA can verify a dealer's membership history, which can help you to establish their claims of longevity. Also, inquire with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) about any reported grievances against the company and the manner in which they were handled.

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