The concept is as old as money itself. In uncertain times, it is wise to own gold.
The precious metal "typically serves as a hedge against inflation or a weakening dollar," Douglas Boneparth, a New York-based Certified Financial Planner and a CNBC contributor, said in an interview with "American Greed." "It's also used as a store of value."
But what is the basis for that theory? And does it still apply in an era of cryptocurrencies, where U.S. inflation has hovered in the low single digits for nearly 20 years? There are about as many opinions about the relative value of gold as there are investors in the markets. Regardless, the near-mystical allure of gold has not waned.
"The thinking is that historically gold has been used throughout time to barter goods. It has kind of a historical component to it," Boneparth said. "This is what we make our jewelry out of. This is something that generally denotes value."
Of course, gold has also been known to attract con artists who harness its awesome power to rip off unsuspecting victims. Charles Larry Bates persuaded hundreds of people to hand over some $18 million, supposedly for gold and silver coins, using an apocalyptic appeal.
"His target market was Christians," David Pritchard, an assistant U.S. attorney in Memphis, Tennessee, told "American Greed." "He talked about how it's predicted that troubled times are coming, and he would talk about how the Bible advocates for the importance of gold."
The trouble was that Bates did not have the gold to deliver, leaving many victims with nothing.
One of them was Lynn Benson, who turned over her life's savings to Bates, got a fraction of the gold she purchased in return, and died virtually penniless.
"She wanted to take care of us and pass on an inheritance to her kids and grandkids," her son Joshua told "American Greed." "She looked forward so much to having grandkids, and unfortunately she was not able to meet them."
Bates, 74, is serving a 21-year federal prison sentence after being convicted last year on 46 counts of fraud and conspiracy.