How to avoid Moving Scams*
There are many individuals who make their living by preying on unsuspecting people who are vulnerable. Dishonest people use a variety different kinds of schemes to cheat others out of their money and valuables. Unfortunately, that can include unscrupulous moving companies that take advantage of customers who are unaware of some of the tricks that can be perpetrated on them.
Have you ever heard the term “moving scam artist” and wondered what it meant? How can anyone make a scam from your desire to move to a new home? Normally the term “artist” conjures up images of creative and imaginative people capable of beautiful designs, exquisite handiwork, revolutionary inventions or progressive ideas. However, there are people who are just as ingenious, just as creative, but who use that creativity for reprehensible activities involving trickery and deceit, rather than for creating works of high aesthetic value. Unfortunately, we live in a day and age where dishonesty has become very common in all aspects of life, and that includes the moment when you need to move your precious belongings from one home to another. Some scammers have created methods of ripping off hapless clients that are so creative they deserve the title of “moving scam artists”. So, if you are planning on relocating, you should take every effort to protect yourself and your belongings.
Take a moment to familiarize yourself with the most common types of moving scams listed below so you can successfully protect your money, your belongings and your nerves while moving into your dream home.
You may be savvy enough to ask for references when shopping around for movers, but many companies have come up with an easy way to provide fake references. They simply create a website with fictitious testimonials written by their own employees or by paid writers using false names, and use these to pull the wool over potential customers’ eyes.
So, don’t be too trusting! Ask for a number of references from actual people – call each of them in person to get the details about their moving experiences. You can also check the Yellow Pages, research the company through the BBB or AMSA, or read online reviews of these movers from websites they don’t control.
Unrealistically Low Estimate
Some movers will offer you an estimate that is too good to refuse in order to lure you into choosing their services. If it’s too good to refuse, it’s probably too good to be true! Once they get the deposit, you may never again hear from them. Or if they do actually appear on the agreed pick-up date, they will certainly request a much larger amount than previously agreed on, listing any number of overlooked conditions – extra services, unforeseen obstacles, etc. You should carefully compare all estimates and take into account all the other relevant information you find in order to make an informed decision and to find honest and competent movers.
Asking for a considerable up-front payment is one of the most common moving frauds. You may be promised a convenient timeframe for your move, or favorable conditions, or higher quality services in return for this fee in advance. If you agree and pre-pay a large amount, you may find they disappear altogether or that the movers handle your property with the same care they would for any other client even though you’ve paid more. So, as a rule of thumb, never pay more than 20 % of the estimated final moving costs up front, use a credit card (not cash), and opt for a refundable deposit, if possible. Credit card payments can be stopped or refunded to you, and a written agreement for a refundable deposit will give you a leg to stand on later on.
Even if you are desperate to find a mover who will help you, and that sometimes happens when a customer has waited until the last minute to hire help, you should always think twice before handing over so much of your hard-earned cash. If a mover will not agree to a more reasonable deposit you should probably try finding another that will offer you a better deal. Otherwise, you might also consider postponing your move until a more suitable company is able to help you.
Be very alert when scheduling your move and be sure to not only read all of the mover’s paperwork, but understand it! You will most certainly find out that the fine print includes a clause or two clarifying that the “guaranteed” price is subject to change under specific conditions. Many common moving company scams are based on this simple trick that allows the movers to charge you extra for a variety of additional services, complications, and etc. Make sure all your requirements, as well as any negotiated terms and specific conditions, are clearly stated on your Bill of Lading before signing it and never sign a blank or incomplete document. If you do, the movers can just fill in a price to their liking.
Non-Professional Labor and Equipment
Some companies don’t have the required license to operate legally. They may not deceive you directly but you will still fall victim to their incompetence and shady activities. Other movers may act as a “moving broker”, a practice where you sign a contract with a reputable company who then sells your contract to a different company. In this instance you never know what you will get: employees who have no experience, rented trucks that are not in good condition, and people just trying to make a quick buck. Make it a rule to check the USDOT number of your chosen movers and to request information about any subcontractors when hiring moving services.
Extra services that a moving company offers are not automatically included in the estimate. Do not overlook this crucial factor – make sure that all the requested services are clearly stated in the Bill of Lading and double-check not only their respective charges but also the conditions under which they will be performed. Rogue movers may deliberately perform a variety of unnecessary services to drain more money out of you or may come up with absurd reasons for outrageous extra charges.
Holding Goods Hostage
One of the top moving scams perpetrated by dishonest movers is demanding more money from you in order to release your belongings. In this case your household items are held hostage until you pay extra for whatever false reasons the rogue moving company comes up with (such as telling you that your belongings are loaded in the truck behind someone else’s and there will be an added fee if you don’t want to wait. Nervous to get your property back, you may agree). Even worse, the moving company may just disappear together with your belongings – the person in charge will explain that their warehouse got on fire or that there has been a delivery mistake. As you keep arranging the details more excuses will come up and finally, you won’t be able to reach the movers at all!
To avoid such a nightmarish scenario, call the FMCSA’s safety violation and consumer complaints hotline to ask about complaints against your chosen movers and research the database of movingscam.com, Yelp, and others before hiring a company. Find out how often problems have been reported and how complaints and disputes have been resolved.
Lost/stolen or Damaged Items
Be mindful that some of your most expensive belongings may mysteriously disappear during the moving process unless you protect them properly. Make sure your valuables are safely locked in a separate room on Moving Day and take them with you. Don’t leave your jewelry in your dresser. Don’t leave your money in the coffee tin in a box of goods labelled “kitchen”. If you need to use moving services for shipping some bulky expensive possessions (electronics, antique furniture, etc.), at least insure them and declare them in the inventory. Don’t forget to check every item against the inventory upon delivery and immediately report any missing or damaged pieces. If you fail to do so, the moving company will deny liability.
Moving scams are difficult to avoid but if you are alert and well-informed, you have a fair chance to find a trustworthy moving company and have a smooth and trouble-free relocation.
The main concern that you must keep in mind is that you have to protect yourself from unsavory characters who will try to take unfair advantage of you. Sometimes it’s hard to turn down a moving service when you feel that there are no other firms available. But you’ll benefit in the long run by being careful about who you choose to move your worldly possessions.