Gold Rush: Soaring Prices, Unscrupulous Precious-Metals Dealers, Right-Wing Paranoia -- We've Been Down This Yellow-Brick Road Before

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The collapse never came. But with gold at about $300 an ounce back then, "looking back now, he's done quite well."

Time will tell whether those buying gold now, at four times that price, will also do well — or face a personal financial crisis when the market crashes.

As hundreds who bought precious metals from Clark and Unkefer can attest, more than just market forces are at work in this industry. Even seemingly sound companies may be criminally managed, making the game even riskier.

As the ancient Romans would have said: Caveat emptor.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.