Don't Fall Victim To
Online Gun Scammers!

Knowledge Is Power
70

REAL

Real — The original photo of this Colt Python is from an auction site.

FAKE

Notice the small mark next to the grip screw, the crane lock screw and the
oil pattern beside the recoil shield. It’s the same gun! Compare the original
to this altered image. The scammer used photo manipulation software to
hide the pattern of the stocks.

The recent gun and accessory shortages have created the perfect environment for those seeking to part us from our hard-earned money. We are desperate to find guns, primers, powder, percussion caps and all manner of shooting gear to keep getting our lead therapy. Anxiety makes us prime targets for scammers but luckily, there are ways to protect ourselves. The first step is to arm ourselves with knowledge of how scammers work.

REAL

Bryant Ridge Company is a well-known and respected seller on Gunbroker.com
and they use a distinctive blue background for most of their items.

FAKE

It’s easy to identify their images when a scammer steals them for fake ads.

The M.O.

Scammers are rampant on many gun auction sites. They open an account, work with fellow scammers to rack up some good feedback on false auctions and set to work selling guns they don’t have. These accounts don’t last long but they don’t need to. They post a batch of popular guns at reduced prices and let the fish take the bait. In most cases, by the time a buyer realizes they have been scammed, it’s too late to do anything about it.

Fake online firearm retailer websites are so common, it’s hard to keep track of them. Seriously, a Google search for a specific firearm resulted in eight fake retailer sites on the first page of results! A desperate buyer finds this new online store with an inside track to every ammunition and gun manufacturer. They somehow have what everyone else doesn’t, and at pre-pandemic prices with no limits on how many can be purchased! The buyer loads up the virtual shopping cart. They hesitate briefly when the scammer asks for PayPal, Apple Pay, BitCoin or Venmo. They finalize the order and relax. When no tracking number is received and no product arrives, it dawns on them they have been scammed.

What was just described happens countless times each day. But, there are ways to avoid the minefield of fraudulent sales.

FAKE

If you do research, you’ll find this photo was stolen from the Hickok45 YouTube Channel.

Play It Safe

First, don’t post your personal information online. Scammers troll social media and forums looking for names, phone numbers and email addresses. They use it to send you bogus offers.

Demand proof the seller has the item. At a minimum, require a piece of paper with the date and their user name in a photo of the item.

Don’t send funds using PayPal, Venmo, Zelle, BitCoin or any other banking app unless you 100% know and trust the person. While they are convenient and fast, they also have drawbacks. First, they are the same as sending cash. You have no recourse if the deal goes bad. No refund. No stopping payment. Nada. Second, it violates the terms of use to purchase a firearm and many related items with these same banking services. If the banned purchase is discovered, your account will be frozen.

USPS money orders used to be a rock-solid way to assure both parties could trust the transaction. No longer. USPS money orders are commonly counterfeited as are cashier checks! If you are a seller, before you ship an item, take the check or money order to the issuing institution to cash it; otherwise, it could be weeks before the counterfeit check or money order is discovered. Your item is gone as well as your money.

REAL

Many scammers are lazy and rarely know anything about guns, so they copy popular websites.
In this case, the scammers copied a popular gun store in Kingman, Ariz.

FAKE

Notice the exact match in the wording and the Latin default text on the fake site!

Escrow it

Because of the rising fraud, there are escrow companies like GunTab. The buyer sends the money to the escrow service, the seller sends the gun to the buyer, the buyer accepts the gun and the escrow releases the funds to the seller. If something goes wrong, they can arbitrate a resolution.

Check the auction seller’s feedback. Don’t bid on auctions with no or low feedback. If in doubt, ask for photos of the item with the seller’s ID and the date.

Use a credit card when possible. If the seller turns out to be a scammer, you can dispute the fraudulent charges and recover your money through the credit card company. If an online store doesn’t accept credit cards, it is likely a scam.

Don’t bid on an auction with different backgrounds in the series of photos. An actual seller is going to take the pictures at the same time and location. Scammers like to harvest photos from several sites and present them as their own, and the backgrounds will often not be the same.

Fake websites are a different beast. By design, they look real enough to fool even the wariest shopper. But, there are ways to double-check.

Hello, ‘Steve’

Many scammers have only a passing knowledge of English and firearms. Read the wording of the website. Is the sentence structure off? Do they use words not typically used in everyday speech? This can indicate they are using translation software and are a fake website.

Are the web pages incomplete? Do they have Latin text? Scammers often use WordPress to build a fake website and the default Latin text is supposed to be replaced by information about the store products. If you see Latin, it’s a red flag.

Go to the “About Us” page. Copy some of the text and do a Google search for an exact match on a different website. Scammers are lazy and often copy essential information from an actual website and paste it to their fake website. Some scammers even use the same word-for-word information on several counterfeit websites.

Do they have everything in inventory and at pre-pandemic prices? Huge red flag! Midway, Brownells, Bass Pro and other big-name players in the retail firearms market struggle to keep their shelves filled. It is nonsense to think a new online store will have unlimited quantities of primers, powder and firearms when the 800-lb. gorillas in the industry don’t.

Do they take PayPal, Zelle, Venmo, Apple Pay and BitCoin? As mentioned before, this is an enormous red flag. Sometimes, they state they usually take credit cards but currently can’t. Please don’t fall for it.

Do they insist on texting you and won’t accept a phone call? This is often to hide their foreign accent and allows them to use translation software. If you call and it sounds like they are from India or Nigeria, hang up and cancel the purchase.

Can they sell you anything tax-free or without using an FFL? Some sites claim they have a special agreement with the IRS and can sell you anything duty-free. While it would be great, it’s a red flag.

Use the Google search engine like a detective. Scammers love to rip photos and copy from legitimate websites and then use them to fool you. I recently looked for a particular gun and found one offered at hundreds of dollars less than average retail. The website also had one photo of what was supposed to be their showroom. A Google image search found the real gunshop the photo originally came from and four other fake websites using the same picture!

Scammers love to rip photos from expired online auctions or classified ads and use these photos to post their ads. Use of the Google image search often turns up the old auctions or ads.

One scammer recently did screen captures of a gun review video and used them to post an auction. Fortunately, a Google image search found the video the screen captures came from, proving the auction listing was fake.

Some scammers try to doctor images to fool buyers. They use photo manipulation software to remove identifying grip patterns, markings and even box wear. Luckily, in most cases, the manipulation doesn’t fool the Google image search algorithms. If in doubt, look for matching patterns in the placement of the gun, screw slots and even marks on the surface from gun oil or fingerprints.

The Best Defense

Use Google to search for copy patterns. Copy refers to the descriptions and wording used on websites. Typically, a scammer will copy the text from actual stores to their website. They might change some of the words to remove identifying remarks to fool a search, but if you are observant, you can detect this. The best way is to check their landing page or About Us page. Generally, those pages should have a unique description of their business. Copy a few lines and do a Google search (above) for the exact wording. You often find the actual site it came from and other fake sites using the same description.

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