Armslist Scams: Revisited

How to spot an Armslist Scam.

So you’ve heard of Armslist scams right? Armslist is one of the leading sources for person to person (and vendor to person) gun advertisements in the world. It is a wonderful, free and extensive resource to the gun community. If you’re in the market to buy or sell a firearm, or firearm accessory, you shouldn’t be put off by reports of Armslist scams or issues. You should however always exercise reasonable caution and due diligence to avoid the would be scammers.

Back in 1996, in the fledgling days of the internet, Craig Newmark launched Craigslist on to the web and changed the landscape of classified advertising forever. In the early days of the platform it grew organically and you could list pretty much anything you wanted to including firearms. However, after about 10 years of the status quo, Craigslist decided to prohibit the sale of guns on their site which created an opportunity for another advertising platform to fill the void.

Enter Armslist. was founded in 2007 by Jon Gibbon and Brian Mancini. Hearing that Craigslist was banning all gun related ads, they jumped into the online classified business by creating a website dedicated to the buying and selling of firearms. Over the last dozen years, the classified ad content has expanded to included gun related items and accessories and has become the premier website of its kind. It is estimated that Armslist now gets well over 100 million page views per year. That is some serious traffic!

Wherever you have lots of people doing business on the web (or anywhere else for that matter) you will find dishonest people trying to take advantage of them. The web is an inherently anonymous place. Free classified platforms like Armslist and Craigslist are ripe targets for scammers because these services do little to identify or authenticate people’s identities. For bad actors there is little risk to being identified or caught. Unless you are a vendor and take advantage of Armslist’s Premium service offering, all you need in order to list products for sale is an email address.

Armslist Scams

How to spot Armslist Scams.

The first thing to keep in mind is that the overwhelming majority of ads on Armslist are legitimate classified ads. OK, they may be poorly worded much of the time and leave you wondering just what the deal is – but they’re not dishonest. If you see an item listed that seems too good to be true, sometimes it really is just a great deal or a motivated seller. However, that is one of the red flags that should go up for you. If you are the buyer, here are some things that should you should examine closely.

  • As mentioned above, consider the price. If an item is selling for much less that you know it’s worth that should immediately raise suspicions. It doesn’t mean you can’t take the next steps in pursuing a purchase, but use caution.
  • What’s the location? Most non-dealer ads are for local sales and face to face transactions. Your average private seller wants nothing to do with shipping firearms, frankly it’s a pain in the ass. If the location is vague like “Massachusetts, Massachusetts” and the seller will ship anywhere maybe that’s not the one for you.
  • If the seller immediately asks to use a different email address or form of communication. They might be covering their tracks.
  • Copy the description of the ad and paste it into Google (or your favorite search engine). Scammers aren’t necessarily creative or knowledgeable about guns so they often cheat and just copy descriptions from other ads. If you get a match, that’s a red flag.
  • Photos. If the picture in the ad is a stock manufacturer’s photo ask for real ones, there is really no legitimate excuse for not providing them. Everyone has a cell phone camera, even my dad. I’ve seen sellers say stuff like “looks like every other G19”. Yeah, maybe – but those other ones are going to sell.  Yours isn’t.
  • If there is a photo, do a Google image search on it. Here’s how.  If the same image shows up in other ads or sources, walk away. If it seems OK, but you’re still unsure then ask for additional photos. A legitimate seller should not have any problem with this as long as you appear serious about buying.

What next?

So the ad seems OK, the picture checks out and you want to proceed. You contact the seller and agree on a price.  What else could go wrong?

  • If you’re the buyer, the seller asks for something other than a face to face cash transaction. If the “seller” gives you any variation on the theme of “shipping to your FFL”, “Use this escrow service”, “I’m out of town and the gun is at my FFL…”  Just say no and walk away.  Paypal? No. Transaction through an FFL are fine, just in person.
  • [This also works in reverse when you’re selling an item. Do not ship, do not use buyers escrow, do not accept checks of any type in advance of delivery. A legitimate looking check can be returned long after the item is gone and you will be left with nothing.]
  • The seller wants to meet someplace sketchy.  Now this is the least likely of scenarios. 99.9% of internet scammers want to stay as far away from physical contact as possible. However, there are a handful of desperate folks out there. Never meet anywhere you’re not comfortable. I like meeting at my shooting club, there’s video cameras inside and outside. My local police station actually has a space out front reserved for internet transactions. Let them know what you’re there for so no one gets the wrong idea. If it’s legit deal your seller won’t have a problem with it.

What do you do when you’ve decided it’s scam?

The first and easiest thing to do is to flag the ad as a Armslist scam so others are warned and just walk away. As long as you have suffered no loss, the easiest thing to do is to move on and not give it another thought. There will always be another deal, another scammer and life is short.  There are plenty of legitimately good deals out there on Armslist. 

On the other hand, if you’ve got a playful/mean streak in you and you have some time on your hands – well…  you can always troll them. Use a throw away email account you don’t use for any serious purpose and string them along for a while. Why not waste their time for a change?

DISCLAIMER! If you go down this road be darn sure it’s a scammer, OK?  There are people out there that are just bad at this stuff but don’t mean any harm. I have to admit, this approach does have some appeal.

Here’s a great example of trolling an internet scammer by James Veitch.  Be careful out there (but have fun).