How to spot a Scammer online

    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.

    “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!


    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.
    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.


    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.


    Screen shot 2014-12-14 at 1.09.29 PM

    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.


    Screen shot 2014-12-14 at 12.00.36 PM

    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.

    Screen shot 2014-12-14 at 12.00.14 PM

    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.




    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.


    Infantry Marine, based in the Midwest. Specifically interested in small arms history, development, and usage within the MENA region and Central Asia. To that end, I run Silah Report, a website dedicated to analyzing small arms history and news out of MENA and Central Asia.

    Please feel free to get in touch with me about something I can add to a post, an error I’ve made, or if you just want to talk guns. I can be reached at [email protected]