- Usually, if you hear somebody say, "Your money's
no good here, pal,'' it's a nice thing. It means the barkeep is buying
you a drink, or some friend or business associate has decided to pick up
the dinner tab.
- Journalists seldom hear that phrase, and they speak it
even less. Barkeeps know that we're always broke, and if you want to see
a klatch of newspaper reporters disappear into the vapor, just toss a dinner
check onto their table. It's like waving a cross in front of Dracula.
- But a polite equivalent of ``Your money's no good here''
arrived in the mail the other day in the form of a note from the Saks department-store
folks. (The only reason we have an account with them is that my wife once
said she wanted to get more from Saks, and I heartily agreed -- only to
learn that, as a mutant Midwesterner, I'd once again misinterpreted her
soft Virginia accent.)
- Anyway, the note from Saks said that, henceforth, it
would not accept cash as a form of payment on store accounts in any amount
over $350. Checks and money orders and online payments and such are fine,
it said, but no bills or change totaling more than $350 in any one-month
billing cycle. New federal government regulations, Saks said, made this
- That aroused our curiosity, as no other company with
which we do credit business had advised us of any such policy. Also, as
far as we could tell, the currency that the government prints still says
on it, "This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private.''
- A call to the hotline number that Saks provided resulted
in one of those long, oily recorded messages in which the guy pretty much
repeated what Saks already had said in the note that came in the mail.
At the end of the recording it said I could "Push 1'' if I wanted
to speak to a human about it. When I did, it said no humans were available
and that I should call back during normal business hours. As it was 10
a.m., I'm now as confused about their definition of "normal'' as I
am about their cash policies.
- My best guess, from a day's research, is that Saks is
referring to elements of the USA Patriot Act, which was passed in the wake
of 9/11. Sections of that law provide new powers for tracking the flow
of terrorists' money.
- Under a little-discussed element of the USA Patriot Act,
any business that accepts cash in the amount of $2,000 or more from a customer
must file a "Suspicious Activities Report'' with the Treasury Department
if the business suspects that the customer might be involved in some illegal
activity. The definitions of ``suspicious'' and ``illegal'' are wildly,
- The business can also report you if you do multiple cash
transactions on the same day that total more than $2,000. As someone who
travels a good bit, I learned long ago that the best interpreter you can
have while abroad is a fistful of crisp U.S. currency. Abroad, banks aren't
always where you need them, and they are prone to give you large piles
of colorful local bills rather than the greenbacks you're accustomed to.
So it's not uncommon for me to board an aircraft, as I did just two weeks
ago, with a couple of thousand dollars in cash stuffed into my nooks and
crannies. (The nooks, mostly, as the crannies can be painful.)
- But as someone who's short, stocky, swarthy, bearded
and in possession of an oddly Middle Eastern-sounding name (it's actually
Welsh), I didn't realize until now that a bank clerk might be compelled
to send the Treasury Department a ``Suspicious Activities Report'' on me
just for moving a mere $2,000 in cash into or out of my checking account.
I suspect that Saks self-imposed a $350 cash-payment limit because it just
doesn't want to get near the $2,000 limit at which someone must make a
judgment as to whether the customer is a terrorist, or just a guy who prefers
to deal in cash rather than paying the banks' interest charges and transaction
- I'm not one of those paranoids who see black helicopters
in the night, or are prone to bore you with long explanations of the "real
meaning'' of that "seeing-eye'' thingy that floats above the pyramid
on our one-dollar bills. But some of the minor invasions we've accepted
under the government's definition of the word ``patriot'' are downright
- For decades, Second Amendment enthusiasts sported bumper-stickers
that said, "When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.''
I wonder how long it will be until we see stickers that say, "When
cash is outlawed, only outlaws will have cash.''
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