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Moving is stressful enough without considering whether or not the company you hire will rip you off. Unfortunately, for a growing number of people in recent years, moving scams are easy to fall victim to.

The following is an explanation of how untrustworthy moving companies came to be, the tactics they’re using to exploit customers, and what you can do to avoid falling for these swindler’s tricks.

Complaints and negative reviews registered at BBB about movers overcharging in U.S. and Canada
YearComplaintsReviewsTotal
20173,3189684,286
20184,7161,2795,995
20194,2741,2185,492
SOURCE: BBB.org
Complaints and negative reviews registered at BBB about movers in U.S. and Canada
YearComplaintsReviewsTotal
20173,3189684,286
20184,7161,2795,995
20194,2741,2185,492
SOURCE: BBB.org

The Law that Paved the Way

The Household Goods Transportation Act of 1980 resulted in the United States’ moving industry being deregulated.

For the first time, this act authorized interstate movers to issue binding or set estimates. Doing so opened the door to the industry for hundreds of new moving firms to join the marketplace.

This, of course, resulted in a rise in competition and soon, movers were no longer competing for services but for whoever could offer the best rates.

As competition pushed rates lower and narrowed what were already thin profit margins, as part of a new scam, “rogue” movers started hijacking personal property – holding it for ransom.

Moving Scams to Watch Out For

The “moving scam” has several variations, but the most common scam starts with a prospective customer calling a supposedly licensed moving company and asking for an estimate for their move.

This interaction often occurs online through moving company websites or over the phone. Then, if it’s a scam, one or more of the following scenarios will play out.

#1 Bait & Switch Pricing

The first sign that something may be off with the mover you’ve contacted is an unusually low quote.

When a moving company has secured a move by offering a non-binding or binding estimate, a legitimate moving company representative conducts a visual assessment and provides a quote based on the workload. 

The mover scammer will provide an advanced quote, site unseen, and purposefully wait until the items are packed and in transport before alerting the customer of the “extra fees.”

Scam movers use misleading weight or space numbers, which isn’t based on actual weight or cubic footage figures and often includes rates based on the moving vehicle’s gross weight.

After packing, the scam occurs when the customer is told that their items have surpassed the estimated weight or allotted cubic footage and the excess load will be an additional fee.

The new price is typically higher than the original estimate by four or five times. The scammers know that, based on their customer’s need for their furnishings and personal effects, most people can be strong-armed into paying these exorbitant prices.

How to Protect Yourself

1. Search the FMCSA database to ensure the company exists, they have a good safety record, and don’t have any existing complaints.

2. Search popular review websites, such as Google My Business, Yelp, and Facebook. If they have multiple bad reviews and no good ones to speak of, try a different company. Similarly, if there are no reviews for them online, they may be a fly-by-night operation you want to avoid.

#2 Upfront Pricing

Trustworthy movers won’t demand cash or a big deposit until your items safely arrive at their final destination. Most reputable movers have you pay with a small deposit upfront and the remainder upon delivery.

If you pay upfront, you have lost any leverage you may have had when it comes to negotiating with a fraudster. 

How to Protect Yourself

1. We recommend using a credit card when you pay, as this helps you combat any fraudulent behavior with the card issuer’s backing.

2. Don’t pay for anything before a thorough in-home walk-through and visual inspection of all the items being moved.

#3 Cubic-Foot Pricing

Reputable moving companies, especially those that perform interstate moves, will charge by the weight and not the number of cubic feet your belongings take up.

The reason for this is because an experienced packer can, and often will, fill the truck with more items than a novice one (or someone trying to charge more based on “space” used).

How to Protect Yourself

1. Ask the moving company how they charge and specifically for what services they will be charging you. Ask about any hidden fees. Avoid those that charge by cubic feet.

#4 Guaranteed Pricing

Legally speaking, moving companies have two ways they can bill customers. With a non-binding estimate, in which the final price the company charges may not exceed 10% of, and a binding contract – a fixed, guaranteed price.

Non-binding estimates are the most popular. It’s not uncommon for the customer to add-on services, such as extra packing, assembly or disassembly of furniture, and last minute items to be moved.

Binding estimates are given when the moving company knows precisely what’s being moved and what it will take to move it – staffing, truck size, and any necessary specialized equipment. 

The red flag is raised when a company offers a binding agreement site unseen or very loosely assesses the load.

How to Protect Yourself

1. If the pricing seems too good to be true, it probably is. You may be dealing with a shady company that is merely waiting to get your goods onto their truck to hold ransom until the “surprise” fees are paid.

2. Ask for a sample contract before actually booking with the company. If everything seems on the up-and-up, make sure the actual agreement reflects that of the sample contract.

#5 The Moving Broker

While not necessarily a scam, there are brokers looking to take advantage of people and moving scammers utilize these brokers to secure customers (aka victims).

Scandalous brokers will often represent themselves as the moving company on platforms like Craigslist to attract unsuspecting victims. They then charge an upfront fee and sell the customer info to a local moving company.

As you may have guessed, that local moving company is in on the scam and they have every intention of squeezing every penny they can get out of you.

How to Protect Yourself

1. A broker will often ask for an upfront fee and provide a quote on an unseen load. As we’ve learned, this is a red flag in itself. However, to determine whether you’re working with a broker versus the moving company directly, read your contract very carefully. Watch for language that states that they “do not handle or otherwise participate in a move as a carrier.”

2. Check the contract for “first available” date with a 21-day window to deliver verbiage. This, often overlooked section of the scammer’s contract, almost always leads to late pickups, deliveries, and, for many victims, sleepless nights.

Conclusion

Do your due diligence when it comes to hiring a moving company. That means utilizing the tools available to you – government agencies, review websites, and have a buyer beware mentality. 

Start by asking friends for a recommendation. Move on to doing your own research and trust your gut – if it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

Federal consumer protection legislation relating to the interstate shipping of household products are applied by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) (i.e., household moves that cross state lines) and designed to better protect unsuspecting people hiring movers.

FMCSA offers an online National Consumer Complaint Database for victims to make a formal complaint and wary consumers to avoid hiring the wrong movers.

Check with your state’s corporation commission to ensure the company is registered.

FMCSA Search

Get a snapshot of any moving company with information about the identification, size, commodity information, safety record and more for free.
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