With Christmas upon us in our rural community, many of you are probably hoping to find a firearm under the tree (and not a Daisy Red Ryder BB Gun). If you plan on shopping online, though, caveat emptor! Scams abound, and one of the biggest in the gun industry are fake online gun stores. I’m a professional fraud investigator and almost got taken in by one while looking for a firearm.
The red flag that stopped me was when I attempted to pay, no transaction took place. I received an email from the store’s owner requesting I pay by Zelle or Bitcoin. Upon further research, I determined the site was fraudulent. I decided to spend some time researching fake gun and ammo stores and discovered dozens of them, all appearing legitimate if one didn’t dig deeper.
What makes an online gun or ammo store fake? The first red flag is that they require payment with Zelle, Venmo, cryptocurrency (Bitcoin, Doge, Ethereum, etc.), or Applepay. None of these payment methods have any way to recover your funds once sent, which makes them perfect for scammers.
The second red flag was finding guns that are hard to find, or well under normal MSRP (or even the wholesale cost). If you’re looking for that special firearm, and prices are high (search Gunbroker.com to see what people are paying or have paid), there’s something wrong when you find it at wholesale (or less).
The third red flag was a lack of a telephone number or physical address on the site. Sometimes, a telephone number is provided, but it is usually disconnected, has the wrong area code, or is also found on several other sites (e.g., one gun store had the same number as a railway company in another state and a cannabis store). They sometimes will say “toll free” but have a regular area code in the number.
Those stores that had a physical address on their site either listed a residential address (in an area that did not conform to the telephone number’s area code), a mail box store (such as Mail Express), or even a real gun store’s address. The last one had the same name and address as the legitimate store, but the jig was up when I saw they only accepted Zelle and cryptocurrency. Some of the fake stores even shared the same fake address.
Another red flag was seeing stores selling machine guns.
These fake sites will usually use the real gun manufacturer’s logos and names, so they appear legitimate.
If buying a gun online, be sure to fully vet the store, and never, never, never pay with Zelle, Venmo, bank transfer, debit card, or cryptocurrency.
A note about buying firearms online – it’s perfectly legal to do so, but the firearm must be shipped to a holder of a Federal Firearms License and you must go through the same background check as you would if buying in a store. There is no “online gun sales loophole.”