Don’t Get Scammed: Five Tips for Online Gun Buying, Selling

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GunsAmerica!  The most trusted place on the internet to buy and sell firearms!

GunsAmerica! The most trusted place on the internet to buy and sell firearms!

Even though we only find a handful of actual attempted fraud cases on GunsAmerica per year, almost all not successful, the internet is full of scammers and con artists itching to take your money, steal your identity and sell you things that don’t exist. Simply put, it’s a dangerous world out there on the interwebs. So, it’s important to take precautionary steps to ensure that you don’t become a victim.

The above is true regardless of whether you’re buying kitchenware or motor oil, but it becomes even more poignant when you’re buying or selling firearms. That’s correct. Buying and selling guns on the internet opens you up to pitfalls that you may not experience when buying or selling other products.

This is true because of the patchwork of gun regulations from state to state, the liability that may come with selling a firearm to or buying a firearm from a prohibited person, the restrictions on shipping firearms via the USPS, among other obstacles — legal and otherwise — one faces when transferring firearms with the help of the Internet.

Below is a list of tips to help keep you on the right side of the law and with your money, identity and property intact as you conduct business online. This list is by no means complete, so feel free to chime in with your own tips and experiences that may help others in future transactions.

1. Use a Trusted Website

You can see some of the questions and information we require from sellers before they are verified.  As  Reagan famously quipped, "Trust but verify."

You can see some of the questions and information we require from sellers before they are verified. As Reagan famously quipped, “Trust but verify.”

This may seem like a flagrant shill for GunsAmerica, but oh well guilty as charged. GunsAmerica is the most trusted name in online gun sales. We’ve been around since 1997! The Jurassic period of the Internet. For almost two decades GunsAmerica has been helping buyers and private sellers and gun shop owners do business online. We were America’s first online gun store.

Over the years, we’ve figured out how to reduce to nearly nothing the amount of fraud on GunsAmerica. You probably don’t know this, but we don’t allow any international traffic on GunsAmerica at all. That is why you don’t get spammed by Nigerian scammers. We actually take a hit with Google because of that, but we have found that it is worth it to remove an entire class of scammers from our neighborhood.

We also verify a credit card address for all sellers on GunsAmerica. One of the small beefs people have had with our new FREE LOCAL SALES feature is that we still require the seller to verify with a credit card. For that, we do an “AUTH” but not a “CAPTURE,” so it doesn’t cost you more than a $1 hold on your credit card for one day. We also allow you to pay $1.99 permanently to “verify” your credit card address. It is a one time fee, and it allows us to check them manually, and make sure that there is no chargeback or fraud claim on the account down the road. To bid on auctions you have to be verified, and some sellers require only contacts from verified buyers, but there are no other differences.

Scammers — as you might imagine — avoid using their real IDs and real credit card information. More importantly, when scammers steal or buy credit card numbers, they almost never come with the correct billing address, so credit card address has become the universal system to establish identity.

Hijacking accounts has been a problem for nearly all internet buying and selling sites. I’m sure you have gotten many emails over the years that look like they came from your online banking site, and GunsAmerica sellers have gotten many of those too, though much less since we shut off international traffic. But more importantly, we copied Amazon’s method for preventing account hijacking, and we haven’t had one account hijacked since.

So, yes, we’re honking our own horn here, but we believe that it is in your best interest to buy and sell on GunsAmerica! You won’t find a more secure site to do business. And since this is our article, sure we put it first ok.

2. Buy or Sell Local, But Be Careful!

Free Local.  You can see the date that the listings are posted and score the good stuff that pops up in your area before anyone else!

Free Local. You can see the date that the listings are posted and score the good stuff that pops up in your area before anyone else!

Let me start by saying there is nothing wrong with interstate gun purchases. But when given the opportunity, why wouldn’t you buy and/or sell locally? Guns are nearly 100% commoditized. That means that everyone knows what they are worth, and they nearly always sell for the same prices, or within 10-20%. I’ve never understood why someone would buy a brand new Springfield XD-M from an online seller, and pay shipping and a transfer fee. From a local dealer you’ll pay sales tax sure, but it usually still comes out to less, and you’re supporting the people who keep our access to guns in civilian hands.

Private sales, if you are a seller, are where things can get tricky. Local gunhawks are always looking for a steal, and when you are hurting for cash, sometimes their lowball prices actually close the deal. I used to watch the local Facebook boards, and when someone put up a Glock for $400, the same half a dozen guys were all over it. As a local private seller, you were pretty much at their mercy if you couldn’t snag a buyer at a reasonable price.

The other downside to the Facebook boards was that you had to use your real name, and that’s really dangerous.

As you may know, GunsAmerica recently launched FREE LOCAL, a new game-changing feature that allows one to list a gun for sale for free provided it’s at the local level. How this works is so long as the sale is within a 50-mile radius, zip code to zip code, there will be no posting fee or after-sale fee on GunsAmerica. If the gun doesn’t sell locally, you can always open it up nationally, and pay our normal fees, which are cheap cheap anyway.

One word of advice, when meeting up with folks that you’ve met online, it always helps to go to a safe place like a mutually convenient FFL or are now being called Craigslist zones, which have been created by a lot of local police and fire departments. These are known areas where there is good surveilance and a steady police presence, so that nobody can set a trap and steal your stuff. It’s a great idea, and if you are doing a legal gun sale, which you better darn well be doing, don’t be afraid of using these safe zones to make your deals for guns.

One step further is what we have for about ten years now called GunsAmerica Drop Off Locations. These are dealers who have agreed to do transfers for local sales at a reduced fee. If you go to an FFL it creates a reliable paperwork trail. Some bristle at paperwork, but it is a solid option for those concerned with covering their respective behinds. There will be a small fee associated, but it may be worth the extra expense for the peace of mind. We are still working the usability bugs out of FREE LOCAL, but once we get to move onto the next thing, Dropoff Locations are going to be much more prominent than they are today.

3. Check Sales and/or Buying History

A new seller.  Not a strong track record.  Don't discount them, but also proceed with caution.

A new seller. Not a strong track record. Don’t discount them, but also proceed with caution.

Getting back to purely online purchases, one of the most obvious ways to avoid getting scammed is to check the history and feedback of the seller or prospective buyer. In most cases, that is an indication of whether or not the individual can be trusted.

A new member to the website, with no transaction history or feedback, is not necessarily a red flag because new people sign up every day to a website like GunsAmerica, but it is certainly a reason to proceed with caution. The newer a seller with a less verifiable history, the more careful you should be.

Here is the checklist I go through in my head as a buyer:

A seasoned seller with many positive transactions.

A seasoned seller with many positive transactions.

How long have they been a seller? What’s their level? Are they verified? Are they an FFL? Are they local? How many active listing do they have? How many items have they sold in the past? What’s their feedback percentage (total positive, total negative)?

The answers to those questions will ultimately determine how I proceed. For example, I won’t think twice about buying from a licensed FFL with a long history of positive transactions. But a new private, out-of-local-range seller with no transaction history, no feedback, and only one active listing, I will certainly do my best to vet the seller.

Likewise, as a seller, you want to make sure you’re not dealing with a prohibited person (a felon, a mental defective, a drug addict, a minor, a domestic abuser). The best way to do that is to ship to an FFL, which you have to do even for in state sales, or again, meet the prospective purchaser at an FFL. There, a background check can be conducted if you have any reservations.

On GunsAmerica you can ask for the seller’s verified credit card address, and that will just be city and state, but we have found over the years that when a seller asks you to send a payment to a different state than his billing address for his credit card, it is always a hijacked account, or a mule who got tricked by one of those fake emails and is now farming illegal cash for her long lost Nigerian grandmother, or so she’ll tell the police when she is caught.

If a seller gives you a payment address the first thing you should do is plug into into Google Maps street view. If you suspect hanky panky, call the guy and ask him what color his house is. Works every single time, and our own customer service reps have done it on suspect accounts for years.

A look at some of the feedback from the trusted seller.

A look at some of the feedback from the trusted seller.

4. If it looks too Good to be True, It Probably Is

This 4-inch Python is available for sale on GunsAmerica.  Unlike the one that I tried to buy, this has a price tag more consistent with market value.

This 4-inch Python is available for sale on GunsAmerica. Unlike the one that I tried to buy, this has a price tag more consistent with market value.

If we weren’t shilling for GunsAmerica, this would have been #1. You have to use your head, more than anything.

That old saying is as true today as it was when it originated, “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.” Before I joined the GunsAmerica team I remember shopping online for a Colt Python. I saw one for sale on a popular website — not GunsAmerica, but another online gun website that I won’t mention — for an unbelievable price. (the site does much better than us in Google because they don’t block international traffic -ahum)

It was, according to the ad, a mint, nickel plated 6-inch Colt Python with a leather holster for $700. Immediately, I emailed the guy. “I want it,” I said, “Let’s do business!”

But then it occurred to me that something wasn’t right. Either this guy was completely ignorant about what he had in his possession or he was a scam artist. Turns out he was a scammer.

I proceeded to ask him a number of different questions about the gun and if he could send me some more photos (aside from the ones in the listing) that showed what the gun looked like in his hand. Of course, he couldn’t. Because he didn’t have the gun. I would later realize he lifted those photos from another seller.

Instead, what I received was a bunch of emails in broken English that failed to address my concerns thus underscoring my suspicion that this guy was attempting to fleece me out of my hard-earned money.  When someone can’t answer a simple question about a serial number or a specific feature or can’t send you an extra photo or two, those are red flags!  Buyer beware!

So, be wary of deals that look too good to be true! Also, on a side note, in my experience scammers write in two distinct forms of argots, one (A.) is broken English and the other (B.) is an overly formalized English that attempts to sound legit.

Examples of scammer speech:

A.

U wants gun… I’ll sell to u for 400. I gots others to.

B.

Dearest

I am writing this mail to you with tears and sorrow from my heart with due respect trust and humanity I appeal to exercise a little patience and read this mail I send to you.

After going through your profile I become interested in disclosing everything about myself to you I am Sandra Joann the only daughter of late Mr and Mrs Evans Joseph Joann.

Please dearest, let us reason together and have trust in God I am seeking your assistance to help me transfer my inheritance money the sum of ($3.300,000.00 dollars)

5. Specific Questions & Inspections! – Sellers Beware of Stolen Parts!

Make sure you take a good look at the gun before you buy it.  Does the condition actually match the condition that the seller described in the ad?

Make sure you take a good look at the gun before you buy it. Does the condition actually match the condition that the seller described in the ad?

The most painful experience when you are working customer service at GunsAmerica is dealing with issues regarding condition, and people who want their money back. If you have never heard the term before, Caveat Emptor! Let the buyer beware. Only you can make sure that you are getting what you are paying for, and even though 99.9% of sellers on GunsAmerica would never misdescribe a firearm, it does happen. Likewise, 99.9% of buyers would never buy a gun to steal parts here, but that has happened as well.

As a buyer, ask questions about the condition and function before you pay, and before the gun is shipped. You have almost no recourse if you get a gun that is close but not what you expected. All you can hope for is a seller who didn’t do it intentionally, and who will give back your money. Note that if the seller is a jerk to deal with from the getgo, he will be more likely to misdescribe, and unlikely to take it back with no hassles.

Inspect the gun before you buy it if you can! This might be a little difficult in one of those police patrolled Craigslist zones, but see if you can figure it out. If you’ve ever tried online dating then you know a potential suitor’s profile picture can be deceiving. People like to portray themselves in the best light possible, sometimes purposely omitting their flaws. Well, with gun sales it’s no different.

Don’t be afraid to specific questions, and to request more pictures if the sale isn’t local. If you were to purchase a revolver, for example, you’d want to make sure that the lock up and timing were in tight working order. On GunsAmerica, we ask the seller to disclose the condition of the gun to create transparency, but as we all know people can sometimes overestimate the condition of their own property.

As a seller, if you are selling a Taurus Judge, and you know it works good and is as described, don’t worry. Most sales like that are seamless. But if you are selling an old Colt, or even an old AMT for which there are no currently made parts, beware that you should arrange with the buyer to have the receiving dealer inspect the gun for condition and function before it is turned over the buyer, and if it is transferred to the buyer, the sale is complete and not returnable. Of course you have to find an FFL who will be willing to take that responsibility, but it will be worth your trouble. You certainly don’t want to get back your AMT Automag with a missing trigger spring.

Conclusion

Even though we are obviously biased for GunsAmerica, all of these concepts can be taken to other online venues as well. Just be aware that it is not by accident that very little if any actual fraud succeeds here. Unfortunately, we have had some cases, and one guy actually got arrested and paroled very quickly, but he had stolen a lot more from buyers at other websites than he had from GunsAmerica people, and we were the only website that bothered to get law enforcement to stop him. As I’m sure you know, the internet is great for a lot of things, but it’s also a kind of a yucky place that attracts nogooders who can’t think of anything to do but try to rip people off. Please just use your head and be careful. If it is too good to be true, it’s not true.

And if you end up using FREE LOCAL, please let us know what you think about the user experience.  We’re still fine-tuning it to ensure that it’s as good as it can possibly be.

{ 14 comments… add one }
  • Hardman Welams August 12, 2017, 6:54 pm

    The best ammunition dealer you can count on AdnanKhashoggi666@fireman.net Trust me you will get what you need from him without much hassles.

  • Ears July 31, 2017, 12:59 pm

    What difference does it make how he spells or uses the word your or you’re? Does his English or his grammar make him any less of a man. Learn to accept people for what’s inside not how they spell a word. It’s not a perfect world.

  • Richard December 18, 2016, 3:48 pm

    I got taken for $5800. Everything checked out on the m82a1. I asked questions of how he had this. He use to have a store but was selling off his old stock. I bought it now. I sent my FFL dealer info. The payment was sent and cashed with a wait time from the bank on a certified bank. The check was signed from the seller. Once time was extended I questioned the seller with no reply. I sent one to gunsamerica with a reply the seller closed the account. I’m left with no money, no product and no info other than what’s was suppose to be legit account info. It states accounts are setup with personal info and creditcard info. I need help to prevent future problems. Thank you

  • john hutchison April 30, 2016, 3:47 am

    I got taken for now 10000USD a gunbroker add the cannonsuperstore selling two 20 mm oerlikon dewates in new zealand i buoght them in 2014 luCky i made contact to the seller who went threw the cannonsuper store on gunbroker the cannon superstore folks vanised i had the person email where the cannonsuper store ed harte and molly so i emailed the new zealand seller e made contact oddly the cannon super store made contact to the san luis obispo importser who contacted me i guess before vanshing they left it with a gun exsport importer in san luis obispo who wanted 1835 usd for importation fees in about early december communication was good untill two months ago they the importers needed another new zealand exsport permit so my contact in new zealand got this done in april but for a long time we tried contacting the mporter, if he did he get the pdf files then today i got a hate email from them that i was harrasing them and iam no longer a customer i saved every email i could put up a website just wtih there emails but a exsport import company of guns ?? and all this stress ?now what ?any suggestion or smiliar situation thanks i hope ths helps me and who ever else

  • Mocatz March 21, 2016, 7:03 pm

    I wonder if drug dealers & criminals will start using these “safe zones”?

  • plumbob March 19, 2016, 8:36 pm

    I had never even thought of someone buying a gun to steal parts off it and then returning it to the seller. Wow! I think a return to the use of public humility using stocks is in order. Great article and a real eye opener. While I don’t sell firearms, I have bought online twice. Both times successfully. Thanks to this article I have a better perspective on what could happen and to stay with reputable dealers/sellers.

  • WILLB March 18, 2016, 9:59 am

    Should have included a paragraph or two on recourse. If it’s fraud, you can take legal action. So, it’s always a good idea to collect enough information to prevent fraud or at least enough to prove fraud. If the seller includes photos on the website that are not accurate, you still have to prove “intent.” That is, if the photo has a defect purposely hidden, it’s fraud. If there are parts missing, but no mention of that, that’s fraud. Big difference between an intent to deceive and a misunderstanding…..and a big difference in the remedies available.

    • john hutchison April 30, 2016, 3:51 am

      wow i just wrote my story i hope the moderators publish it i was taken for about 10000 and waiting

    • JoeUSooner August 3, 2017, 10:20 pm

      Give the certified bank check (in a properly addressed, stamped envelope) to the FFL who receives and inspects the firearm. HE can either 1) simply mail the check in payment to the seller, IF the firearm is in acceptable condition (presuming it arrives at all)… OR 2) he can arrange for the seller to pay for return shipping.
      Of course, communication between the three of you is vitally important. But this system has worked well for me… and since the FFL gets all the necessary information during the background check of the buyer, the seller is well protected!
      Any “seller” who refuses such an arrangement (claims to NOT trust FFLs, for example) definitely has something to hide, and is not worth doing business with, in the first place.

  • DarryH March 18, 2016, 8:49 am

    I followed all those rules and still got screwed!!!! It was on a different web sight that caters to the popular black gun.
    The seller had lots of good feedback, he had a lot of pictures, he had a good description, and the price was in order for a gun of it’s type and condition. I opened the gun at my FFL dealer, and right away spotted multiple issues. He was my witness and willing to swear to the issue. I contacted the seller who said, well I usually don’t deal with that type of gun, and he refused a refund.
    I then contacted the moderators on the web sight. I sent them pictures that showed the issues. The seller had taken lots of pictures, but deliberately avoided the issues. I lost my appeal as I had 8 positive feedbacks, and he had many many more.
    I spent $850 and got $300 when I sold the gun. Even if everything is right, a person might pull something just once, thinking they can get away with it, and he did.

  • Magic Rooster March 18, 2016, 7:24 am

    Well written article! It is easy to get “caught up” in buying anything from a car to a firearm. Buyer beware is timeless, and good advice.
    The part about “broken English” would seem to apply to many of the posers I mean posters on this blog. LOL

  • Tom Lucas March 18, 2016, 6:31 am

    You’re, you’re, you’re. Please! Learn the difference between you’re and your.

    • Kansas Flipper March 18, 2016, 8:50 am

      You’re is a contraction for you are. I believe his all of his uses in this article of both you’re and your are correct.

    • Gregg Edwards March 22, 2016, 11:15 pm

      Where did you learn English?

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