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
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!
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
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:
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.
4. If it looks too Good to be True, It Probably Is
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:
U wants gun… I’ll sell to u for 400. I gots others to.
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!
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.
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.