Avoiding Fraud on Canadian Classified Gun Sites

Avoiding Fraud on Canadian Classified Gun Sites

Buying or selling a gun privately online shouldn’t be that difficult to do; after all, people have been doing the same thing through the newspaper, magazines and at gun shows for decades without a problem.  Unfortunately, thanks to the increasing pressure from the anti-gun lobby to shut out Canadian firearms owners from websites like eBay and Kijiji, Canadians just don’t have a lot of options left to them.  Add to that the fact that the few remaining sites still available to us all contain fake ads by fraudsters and ripoff artists looking to make an easy buck, and it doesn’t take long to see why so many Canadians avoid online classified ads altogether.

Since provincial and federal law enforcement are pretty busy criminalizing formerly-legal firearms and seizing private property without compensation, they don’t seem to have any time left for investigating online fraud. That being the case, its basically up to consumers to protect themselves.  With that in mind, this article is intended to provide readers with some basic tips and best practices when shopping for firearms on the Internet.

At the time of this recording, the largest online firearms classified site in Canada is usedfirearms.ca, so that’s what we’ll be focusing on, although most of these tips will work anywhere.  While the site itself is pretty well-designed and intuitive, like all the others, it also contains a ton of fake ads.  Having worked in the firearms industry before, I’ve both bought and sold guns on usedfirearms.ca for years without issue, so I’m going to give you a few tips you can use to minimize your chances of running into trouble.

A pictures is worth a thousand words

The first thing you should look for is a photo.  Aside from the obvious importance of being able to see what you’re buying, the photo is also a dead giveaway if the ad is a fake.  Right off the bat, if an ad doesn’t include a photo, just forget it and move on.  Too hasty?  Remember, any firearm is going to sell for at least a couple hundred bucks, so it’s not like it isn’t worth the seller’s time to post a picture.  If they don’t have one, generally speaking, it’s because the don’t have the gun either.

Stock photos are something else to watch out for.  As a former dealer I can tell you that stock photos are an invaluable marketing tool; they’re professional shot, well-lit and generally paint the firearm in the best possible light.  Unfortunately, fraudsters love them too, as they’re easy to obtain online and look just as good in fake ads as they do in real ones.  If the ad in question contains multiple images including a stock photo, that’s one thing, but if the only image available is a stock photo, that should raise a red flag.

Google images are another strong indicator that an ad could be fraudulent.  When you come across an ad that you’re interested in, switch over to Google in another browser and perform an image search for the gun in question.  If the exact same picture you saw in that ad shows up on Google in a dozen different places, that’s another red flag.

Details, details…

Once you’ve checked the photos, review the description.  Most fake ads are used by fraudsters again, and again, sometimes even on the same site.  Cut and paste part of the ad into Google and see what comes up; if the same ad appears on a number of international sites, it’s virtually guaranteed that it’s fraudulent, as importing/exporting firearms without a business license is very expensive and time consuming.

Next, take a look at the classification.  The one (and only) good thing about Canada’s complex classification system is that outside of the great white north, virtually no one understands it.  Since most fake ads are copied from American sellers, they’ll almost always get the classification wrong.  Anyone offering to sell you a gun should know it’s proper classification, so right away you know there’s a problem when an ad for a 2″ snub-nose revolver says it’s non-restricted, or doesn’t indicate that the buyer needs a prohibited license.

The description in a fake ad will also often reference the US.  Any Canadian who’s ever tried buying or selling guns across the border can tell you it’s a lengthy and expensive process.  That being the case, ads on a Canadian site offering to ship anywhere in the US for free, or that reference American laws or locations are virtually all fake.

Money talks

Finally there’s the price.  As the age-old saying goes, “If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”  We all love a good deal, but some common sense here can take you a long, long way. If you’re looking for a firearm that regularly sells for $3,000, and somebody’s offering it to you for $900, that should be a dead giveaway that there’s a problem.

To-do list

With the warning signs covered, let’s move on to some other strategies you can use to ensure you have a positive experience.  The first thing you should do is check the user’s comments, and profile.  As law enforcement does such a terrible job of policing online sales, consumers have had to pick up the slack, and fortunately they do a pretty solid job of it.  The usedfirearms.ca community actively works together to highlight fraudsters, so if you see a half dozen comments warning about a user, steer clear.

The next thing you’ll want to do after contacting a seller is to request an up to date photo.  The easiest way to do this is to ask for some closeup shots of the firearm, which has the added bonus of getting you a better look at it.  Failing that, you can also ask them to place the gun next to a newspaper with a recent date, or even a piece of paper with your name on it; the goal here is to establish that they do in fact have the firearm.  If they’re unwilling to do this, walk away.

From here you’re going to want to speak with them on the phone.  If they say they’re too busy, walk away.  It may sound extreme, but remember, this transaction’s going to be for at least a few hundred dollars minimum; any legitimate seller is going to be willing to field a phone call or two if they think they’re making a sale.  If possible, ask them to provide you a number to call them at, as this will give you something you can look up to confirm they are who they say they are.  If they insist on calling you, ensure you can see their number on the call display.  No number?  No deal.

Once you’ve spoken to them, look the number up online to ensure the area code matches the location that they claim to be from.  If it doesn’t make sense, for example an Alberta area code shows up for an ad that’s supposedly in Ontario, walk away.  You can also type the phone number into a search engine like google to see if anyone’s ever reported it for fraud.  Fraudsters will often post hundreds of ads at once using the same contact number before moving on to another.

Unfortunately, until federal and provincial law enforcement decide to step things up a bit and make a real effort to combat fraud in this country, fake ads are something we all have to learn to deal with.  By using these tips and a little common sense, you should be able to spot and avoid ripoffs while still snagging some great deals online.

For more information on how to protect yourself from internet fraud in Canada, visit the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre site at http://www.antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca/index-eng.htm or contact the CAFC at 1-888-495-8501.

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