How to spot a Scammer online

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Using the internet to search for firearms online can be a great tool to find firearms in your local area or even across the country for a good price. As we move further into the digital age and online scams become increasingly widespread, this unfortunately affects our beloved firearms market.

The online marketplace is a fantastic place to find a particular firearm of interest for a multitude of reasons. One of the largest is that it provides an excellent comparison tool that probably won’t be available in the local gun shop or among a community of shooters. For example I can search for not just any AR15, but I can specify a certain make and model in addition to any number of options. Then I can directly compare various rifles in different websites or even on the same website for the optimal price.

There are some downsides of course. You’re going to have to take a leap of faith in regards to the actual condition of the firearm, its service life, and round count. You won’t be able to examine it up close and in detail before the purchase, and most online transactions are final. Then of course there is getting scammed.

I take this very personally as I’ve been scammed before. It’s quite embarrassing and I didn’t even bother calling the Police either because I was so embarrassed. Luckily the amount of money I lost wasn’t too substantial and I learned from my lesson. This just goes to show the life adage that “Mistakes are expensive”. The scam in question was for a Springfield Armory M1A and I had been desperately looking for this rifle at a good price and in a wood stock that when I found it for a very decent price (First Mistake) on Armslist, I was so interested in the rifle that I completely ignored all the obvious signs of a scam.

Price- A scammer online is looking to attract potential people to his listing so the price might be the first thing that will throw you off. Although finding a firearm for a good price and buying it for that is like discovering a goldmine, this is the same motive that scammers are counting on for you to fall for their trap. This is usually obvious as well. With the example showcased below, I went looking for an H&K USP Compact, most of which are in the 700-900 dollar price range, some are in the 550 to 700 price range and almost none are below 500 dollars except for this scam listing.

Description- Read both the description and the correspondence between yourself and the seller. Two things immediately stand out, bad grammar and a lack of firearms knowledge in many aspects. Bad grammar is the hallmark of all mediocre scammers worldwide either through under capitalization, over capitalization, or completely misspelled words. Firearms knowledge is important to look out for as well. Of course, not everyone has the knowledge that a curator at the NRA Museum or a gunsmith would have, but those who routinely deal in firearms know a certain amount. For example most sellers would know that a firearms transaction takes place from FFL to FFL if in between states or that once a gun is fired it cannot be considered New or “New in Box”. This won’t be noticeable if the scammer is especially careful but most scammers know that they don’t have to be to con most people and thus get away with. This is an example of an actual email that would fit a scammer’s description-

Good Day Sir
Thanks for contacting me regarding my firearms on armslist.I would like to sell this beautiful piece of rifle to you and its in good condition,I am located at Dyersburg .May i know where you located and how we can proceed with the deal.
Thanks

“This beautiful piece of rifle”, I wasn’t aware that rifles came in pieces! And someone can be located in Dyersburg, but not “at” Dyersburg. The guy later said this was in Tennessee but he certainly didn’t mention it in the first email!

Pictures and serial numbers- Examine the pictures mercilessly, often they will tell the exact description of the firearm that the scammer is trying to hide. Get the serial number because this will tell you when it was made and you can correlate that with what the seller is telling you about it. For example if the serial number is putting it as being made in the 1990s, but the seller is saying he bought it brand new in 2010, this a huge disparity and worth looking into, especially if it’s a popular firearm. Also you have to know about the firearm you’re looking into. Look at this post on Armslist. Not to say that it is a scam, but look at the title of the post- “VINTAGE SPRINGFIELD M1A RIFLE 1981 PREBAN MINT”. First of all, why is the seller putting it as a “Vintage” and “Mint” in the title? It’s almost as if he is trying to attract people to the listing. In addition, why the “Preban”? What ban was the M1A covered under in the first place? It certainly wasn’t covered by the infamous Clinton era Assault Weapons Ban of the 1990s, and why would the seller be mentioning bans that do cover the M1A in places like Connecticut or California when 1) Those bans only affect those states and 2) He’s in Wisconsin! Which doesn’t have any Assault rifle ban right now. He could be talking about the 20 round magazine, but even then, that’s just a magazine, there is nothing “Pre ban” or “Post ban” about this rifle in its shape and function. About the only thing correct in the title is the actual firearm and the serial number he lists in the description actually does match Springfield Armory receiver production dates in 1981. But he doesn’t even post a picture of the serial number!

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So the seller lists this as a 1981 make M1A. All very well and good until we realize that Springfield Armory had the selector lever cut outs in their stocks up until the late 1990s when they ran out of GI receiver blanks that had the selector lever part incorporated. So if this rifle has been in a safe since 1981, where is the selector cut out… Once again, it is unknown if this is a scam, but it does showcase some points that scams have in them.

Cross Checking- Gather as much information and contact points on the seller as possible. If his phone number is a Google Voice number, then something might be off, if his email address isn’t matching up with his name, or if he doesn’t even give out his name. In addition if he has a phone number with an area code to another state but lives in a separate state than the phone number, this might be a hint as well. If he even talks on the phone at all. In the previous scam mentioned, the scammer refused to even talk on the phone. With the email example above, the email address was listed as “nycrifle007”. NYC Rifle? Why would a user name his email account after a single rifle? Doesn’t he have other things going for him in life? In addition why was the email NYC when the originator came from Dyersburg, TN? It should be noted that the email no longer exists and the phone number given has since been disconnected. This is another example of an actual scam email where nothing was adding up-

I still have the Springfield Armory M1A ‘Loaded’ .308Win MA9822 for sale, i didn’t really use it….it has a good feel in the hand and also has a good balance….i am selling this lovely gun because i’m in a huge Money problem and have no choice than to put a few things out for quick sale. i live in Brooklyn, New York so let me know if you can drive down to come get it or you can cover the shipping cost to your FFL dealer. do let me know what works for you..  The mode of payment is Money Orders. if you are ready i will send you my location address where you can send the M.O. too Hope to hear from you soon.Thanks.
Kenneth
347-620-0271  ( Text only )

 

Really? Where do we even begin? To start with, no gun owner would list that title of an M1A in a personal e-mail with that long phrase, including a catalog number. Then, if we know anything about gun laws in New York City, we know that permits are extremely hard to come by, especially in Brooklyn. The grammar in this paragraph is completely off the mark, and the scammer is using the tactic of either buy now or not at all, thus forcing the customer to make a decision, and hopefully one that falls into the scam.

Enough about how to spot a scam, this is an example of how to make sure your seller is legitimate. Basically reverse everything that is mentioned above and look for a sense of personality because as humans, we are personable. This is an example of a transaction that I found online and went forward with very successfully.

Ok, it is a gen 3. Purchased in 2006. About 1200 rds through it. It’s a Glock, so there has never been any stoppages or malfunctions, there has not been any modifications done to it, it’s completely stock. The light is a Insight m6 (visible red laser / white light combo). As pictured it comes with the factory case and 2 holsters. One holster is a concealed inside the waist holster (G-Code), and one is a outside the wasit kydex holster.If you are willing to pay $650 I’ll throw in some more ammo, and hold it until you get back.

Sure, he spelled “waist” wrong, but for the most part, he is grammatically correct, is knowledgeable in the subject matter, mentions the variant number, and talks about the history of the gun and its accessories. Also, people just don’t sell guns for fun, they have reasons, like a need to buy another gun, or it doesn’t work out for them, or they need the cash quickly (stay weary with this one, as it could mean the gun is “hot” or stolen, in addition it is a common scam tactic as mentioned above). So always be sure to include the simple question of “Why?”. In this case, the seller replied with-

I am a small dude, so concealing it my waist doesn’t work that well. I used to shoot ipsc matches with it, but now I want a pistol I can carry every day. So I need something smaller. The reason I put it up the way I did because I don’t like hassle and I originally wanted to trade outright for a glock 26

The guys reasons make sense, not a big gun collector, just wants a smaller Glock, and a 26 is certainly a smaller version than the Glock 22 he is talking about. He mentions that he used to shoot in IPSC competitions which is something that only someone really involved in the shooting sports would know about and understand its context.

Below is an example of a scam that I recently encountered while searching for a .40 Cal H&K USP Compact online.

scam

This is a textbook example of an online scam and what you need to be on the lookout for. The “affordable price” title is meant to draw a reader in while the $430 is very underpriced for a used USP Compact, especially complete with a box and two magazines. Also the fact that it says “Pistol” in the title (why would anyone put in “pistol” in the title of a listing for a handgun on a firearms website? Of course it’s a handgun!)  in addition to there being no variant code such as V1 or LEM is also a key to it not being real. The fact that the seller describes it as “Very Nice” and with “2 Clips” reveals a lack of knowledge about firearms descriptive terms. Although it is technically correct in describing it as a “Bore”, most descriptions would use Barrel. At the bottom of the text are the specifications for the handgun which aren’t even complete or accurate. The capacity isn’t listed and the model number although is a USP, it’s specifically a USP Compact, which is a huge difference. This listing is still online, another giveaway because it was listed on December 6th 2014 and its now almost a week later. If this USP were legitimate, and at a price that makes it probably the cheapest USP on the entire internet, it would have been bought and taken down almost immediately as anything H&K is always in high demand. The scammer is still replying to emails about his listing as recently as December 14th.

 

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This is the exact same description as above, except appearing on Buds Gun Shop for the product description of an H&K USP Compact in .40 caliber.

 

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Why did he capitalize the C? Why is he being brief and why is he so quick to get the gun out to my FFL? And with insurance? As if that extra measure is going to get me into the purchase faster. This is the email correspondence with the lister on Armslist.

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He ended up giving me a call and telling me only 50 rounds had gone through it. Seeing that this USP is an AB prefix, meaning it was made in 2002, this is extremely hard to fathom, especially if like he also said, had been previously owned. Take into account that the Glock mentioned earlier was a Gen 3 and already had 1200 rounds through it, and it was of a similar age.

 

Without sounding contradictory, although purchasing online certainly has its advantages, the absolute best way of a guaranteed and legal purchase is a face to face transaction in a gun store. If this resulted from an online interaction, that would be the best course of action to be taken. I hope this information makes it harder for scammers to con unknowing people into their traps as it almost did me on one occasion that I should have known better.

 

 

DISCLAIMER

By buying firearms online, I am assuming that my audience understands that firearms purchases work from Federal Firearms License to Federal Firearms License if conducted over long distances and in between states and that sending firearms through the mail to a home address is illegal. I am also assuming that readers understand the particular laws within their states in regards to age limits, permits, and NICS background checks in addition to whatever other requirements must be filled to lawfully purchase a firearm.



Miles V

Former Infantry Marine, and currently studying at Indiana University. I’ve written for Small Arms Review and Small Arms Defense Journal, and have had a teenie tiny photo that appeared in GQ. Specifically, I’m very interested in small arms history, development, and Military/LE usage within the Middle East, and Central Asia.

If you want to reach out, let me know about an error I’ve made, something I can add to the post, or just talk guns and how much Grunts love naps, hit me up at miles@tfb.tv


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  • sianmink

    Pull one of the pics they’re using and do a google image search for similar. If the same gun with the same picture was sold a while ago by someone else, you might be in for a bad time.

    • Michael_Walters

      Reverse image search is the best!

  • BryanS

    “Two things immediately stand out, bad grammar and a lack of firearms knowledge in many aspects. Bad grammar is the hallmark of all mediocre scammers worldwide either through under capitalization, over capitalization, or completely misspelled words.”

    Or my dad, or the number of older guys who are just discovering that the internet can be used to sell things, or millennials who are not able to communicate in English across electronic devices…..

    • Chase Buchanan

      Millennials are certainly able to communicate in standard English electronically, but a few of them choose not to, even when it would be inappropriate for the intended audience. I do not understand why, but oh well.

    • Some of these comments seem to be fixated on my point of using bad grammar as a pointer to a sale possibly being a scam but you’re taking it out of context. Just because a seller doesn’t have good grammar, it doesn’t mean they’re not legitimate. BUT if they have bad grammar, don’t know anything about firearms, have unmatching emails, names, and address’s, AND the pictures don’t match, then that’s obviously a serious case for a scam. But in the case of your father, he might have bad grammar in an email, but I’m sure his address and phone number would match up and I could talk to him on the phone and so forth. My case against bad grammar is very valid when taking the rest of these pointers into context.

    • Grindstone50k

      Oh god, my mom texts like a 12 year old girl.

      Even my upper management at work using the office chat type like tweens. “grindstone u got that tps report 2 rite???”

      • BryanS

        And do they do it like my boss, with 2 fingers?

  • sdelcegno

    Just one correction Im from CT. The M1a was never covered under our old assault weapon ban or new one. It was always legal. so preban is a dead giveaway.

    • Vuddha Tran

      The M1A used to ship with a bayonet lug and flash hider, after the Federal AWB they shaved the lug off and may have used a brake instead.

  • Jeremy Star

    WEARY = Tired
    WARY = cautious

    You seem to think the majority of gun owners know a lot about firearms. This is simply not true. The majority of gun owners call magazines “clips” and know diddly about firearms. Of course you need to be aware that scams exist and do your homework, but bad grammar is rampant in our society. If I refused to deal with people with bad grammar, well, I would be very lonely.

  • John McPherson

    My M1A which I have had quite a long time was purchased with a new stock so without the selector cutout. This was an option but was available at the time.
    Always use Google earth maps street view to verify the address. If it is an empty lot or McDonalds you might want to ask more questions.
    Yes, all of us have been sold something that did not jive with the online ad, and need to be wary. Use postal money orders and at least you can put the govt boys on them.
    As Mark Twain said, you cannot cheat an honest man, but someone trying to steal a gun for below market prices is not honest is he.

  • Dr. Daniel Jackson

    If you are trying to buy a gun online look under your state in armslist and meet face to face somewhere public to buy the gun,online gun buying doesn’t have to be difficult if you only meet local people you won’t likely get screwed over,however you should be packing just in case.

    • Grindstone50k

      This is why I prefer my local gun forum. Sure it’s full of rednecks and right-wingers, but at least they deal fairly.

      • uisconfruzed

        That’s what I love about redneck right wingers too, I can trust them! 🙂

        • Grindstone50k

          My hispanic wife and gay friends don’t, though.

          • Sean

            Weirdly enough, I once bought a gun on my local gun forum from a gay, hispanic guy. He was selling to pay for his wedding.

          • avconsumer2

            I simply MUST know what a gay hispanic guy carries! (or previously owned)

    • uisconfruzed

      We flipped several ARs last Nov-Dec when the prices blew up. We ONLY met people in the gun store to do the transfers.

      • iphonetechtips

        Shhhh… agents.

        • uisconfruzed

          Non issue when the stores did all the govt pprwork.

  • USMC03Vet

    Buying/selling firearms gets me way too paranoid if it’s not from a business location.

    My rules of firearm private buying/selling.
    1. I’m going to shoot it to make sure it works which means meeting the person at a range.
    2. I’m not going alone and the person with me will be armed
    3. I’m not showing up with cash initially. If it functions correctly at the range and we agree on a deal I will return shortly with said money.
    4. Buying used online from private seller? Sadly the few bucks I might save isn’t worth the risk unless it’s in person.

    That’s just me though. I’m paranoid and don’t trust people.

    Merry Christmas, Guys and you lurking girls. Have a happy and safe holiday.

    • Katie A

      Lurking girls?

      • gunslinger

        silly people.. there are no girls on the internet.

        • Katie A

          Oh man, I’m not a girl? All these years….the lies…the horror…

  • FourString

    M1A was never banned in California to begin with. It’s got a bloody traditional “sporter” stock

  • Oh I even texted the guy that he was the centerpiece of my post and encouraged him to stop his scams on armslist. I have no remorse when it comes to these people.

  • That is a fabulous idea, I honestly didn’t think of something so simple.

  • تنتهك نفسك

    use google reverse image search (firefox or chrome add on), 9x out of 10 the pics were stolen from a gunbroker auction

  • Jim B

    Regarding the M1A, Springfield removed the bayonet lug when the ban went into effect in 1994. So if it’s missing the lug it was probably made after the ban. Of course, you could simply purchase a replacement flash suppressor with lug and install it your self. Not sure if they ever added the lug back since….

  • Simcha M.

    I’m an online seller (Evilbay, Etsy & Gunbroker) and if a potential buyer asks me a question, however innocent, with poor grammar or spelling, then I will just simply block him from buying. That’s not even counting the DUMB questions with good grammar!!

    Bad grammar and spelling IS the hallmark of a dipshit customer. This is twelve years of selling online experience talking here.

    Mouth-breathers waste an incredible amount of time and it just isn’t worth the money made from the sale to have to hold his hand and walk him through all the steps of sending an FFL, paying with paypal, etc. etc. etc.

    These booger eating morons may not be scammers, but they rob us sellers of something almost as valuable as money; OUR TIME!!!

  • I just bought a USP full sized for 402 after tax and background. True it was a Police trade in, and had some holster wear, still a great deal imo

  • Cal S.

    What? I love how Glock people are just like Apple people. Lol, that response: “Ya know, it’s a Glock with a capital ‘G’ as in ‘God’, so it’s never had a single problem.” So at least we know from that that it wasn’t a Glock 29, 19, or a 42. Good to know, good to know.

  • Roger V. Tranfaglia

    Thank you, Miles for the tips!….

  • uisconfruzed

    New trick I didn’t know, thanks

  • El Duderino

    I love selling on Armslist since most of the buyers are pretty clueless about guns in general. I hate buying there for the exact same reason.

    Following the pyramid model, most gun owners are 1-4 on the knowledge scale (out of 10). I am SWAGing that TFB regular readers are in the 5-10 range.

    I hunt with about 5 people I’ve known for a long, long time. None of them know much about guns or optics. They are reasonably good shots with their rifles but if you hand them a rifle outside their experience e.g. a semi auto to a lever gun guy they are lost. One of my hunting buds asked me if he knew of a good place to get a .357, and if it would also fire .38 Special. Another bud believes his .25-06 is the highest velocity legal hunting caliber in Washington State.

    So, in short, take mistakes in the ad with a grain of salt, but always be wary of insane deals or people that can’t meet you FTF. Always meet FTF, demand cash (buyer or seller), use a counterfeit pen (and tell the buyer you’ve been burned in the past). Of course, if you’re in my state of WA you now have to play by different rules…

  • RonCatdaddy

    Gunbroker allows rip-off artist to operate at their site. After a seller did not deliver a pistol paid for with a postal MO, they told me he needs to do it TWICE to get delisted!! When I tried warning other buyers on GB’s forum, the kicked me of the forum!! GOD AS MY WITNESS!! The postal service and the WV LE were worthless in pursuing this!! The PO also told me the fella needs to show a pattern of this behavior before they would do anything!! ASTHONISHING!!

  • Bruce

    I discount ads that are posted with bad grammar or text grammar. I usually ignore such ads because I don’t want to deal with people that can’t type or can’t use spell check.

    That said, the only thing that actually stands out about these ads are the price. All the other things you pointed out are just ignorance.

  • AUGrad06

    I’ve bought and sold a few online, and I’ve come across quite a few fakes also. I’ve never been burned though. The grammar is the biggest giveaway if you ask me. Also I only deal locally or FFL dealers that I can locate online and see they are a brick and mortar store too.

  • Cymond

    Some people are legitimately ‘night owls’ like me. It’s not unusual for me to be awake at some weird hour. Factor in time zones, and it’s easy to receive an email at 4 am. Remember, 4 AM on the east coast is only 1 AM on the west coast. Likewise, some people are ‘early birds’ so 4 AM on the west coast is 7 AM on the east coast.

  • Use Gunbroker and check the feedback and number of sales.

  • Really—use Gunbroker. You can see feedback and number of sales. Much safer.

  • Yellow Devil

    Ask them to take a picture of the firearm with that day’s newspaper. If it works well with ransom victims, it should work well for firearms.

  • avconsumer2

    Oh! Nice. Not quite as flamboyant as I’d expected. (stereotyping, I know)

  • Slvrwrx

    Because the firearm crosses state lines, FFL’s need to be involved. If a person in another state buys your firearm, then depending on the buyer’s FFL, you sometimes can ship the firearm directly to the FFL. Otherwise some require you to take your firearm to your FFL.