Planning a move? How to watch out for moving scams

Moving scams are an unfortunate reality in today’s world. Over the years many people who have relocated have experienced a variety of scams from moving companies.

According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), in 2012 the agency received more than 1.4 million moving-related inquiries and over 9,300 complaints issued against movers.

What is a moving scam?

There are several types of moving scams. These include extra fees tacked on not included in the original agreement or broken and missing items. Holding possessions “hostage” is another common scam. What happens is the company keeps your belongings until it decides to deliver. This can be weeks or months, depending on how their deliveries go, often they’ll wait until they can deliver several people in the same region.

Another common rip-off is the “mover” loads furniture and other belongings and then suddenly changes the price to a much higher one. And then refuses to hand over your stuff. NBC’s Today describes other common scams that can occur with movers.

Each year thousands of people are scammed by companies or individuals posing as a legitimate company. This can be costly for the consumer.

The good news is there are a few ways to avoid falling victim to one of these scammers. Arm yourself with knowledge and filter out the schemers from the legitimate companies.

Do thorough research

If a company is offering a cheap deal, chances are it could be a scam. Consider the old adage, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. With movers, this saying often applies. It is important to do thorough research before hiring any company.

As a part of your research, be sure and get numerous estimates, three at a minimum, and don’t rely on online quotes. Have the company come to your home and do a written estimate, recommends BBB.

You can also check which features a “black list” of problem companies and also provides message boards where consumers can post experiences.

Word of mouth

Word of mouth is often the best way to find any service or product. According to MSN, a good place to start is with your real estate agent. Good agents are usually in the know about reputable companies and which ones are not recommended. Additionally, ask family, friends or colleagues that have moved as well. This way you can get a number of estimates from companies people you know have had good experiences.

Check certifications

Be sure the mover you are considering is both licensed and certified. If the company delays or balks at providing you with requested information, run the other way. Also, always check to see if they are registered with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

Closely examine contracts

As you choose your company, be sure the contract is very specific and fully filled out with no blanks left in any spaces. Ensure there is no wiggle room for hidden charges. Also ask the company what happens in the event your belongings are damaged—be sure a satisfactory solution is included in your agreement. Details such as price, delivery date, moving supplies and a list of your belongings should be explicitly spelled out.

Also, never pay the full price upfront. Reputable companies usually do not charge an upfront fee, but some might ask for a partial payment (up to 25 percent) and you pay the rest when you get your belongings. It is common for companies to sometimes have a slightly higher charge to happen upon delivery, however it should not be excessive.

Additionally, never pay in cash, always make sure there is record of your transaction so you have recourse in the event something goes wrong.

Other warning signs

According to an ABC News report, another sign to look for is unmarked trucks. Reputable companies want to advertise and increase their company’s visibility, while schemers, not so much. If the truck looks dingy and poorly maintained, this is a red flag. If the company can’t take care of their own equipment, how will they handle your belongings?

The company should have a physical address, not just a website, be sure there is an actual location officially listed and verify it actually exists. Scammers often do not have a branded name; Marketwatch notes these schemers will answer the phone as “movers” or “moving company”. 

Another warning sign is a company that won’t do an in-home quote. Reputable companies are more than happy to come give an onsite estimate and answer any questions you might have before you sign a contract.

Additionally, watch out for “brokers”, which are people who only solicit the work, but then pass the job onto a mover. They give the illusion as being a company representative, but in reality is just a middle man and you never know what company you’ll end up hiring.

Know your rights

There are consumer laws that protect people
from getting scammed. Find out what the laws are and this way you are armed
with this information before you move. If you do happen to get scammed,
you can file a complaint. A good website to visit is the U.S. Department
of Transportation’s website.

While sadly, there are many moving scammers out there, there are reputable ones. Just remember what to watch for and you can avoid being scammed.