Planning a Move? Watch Out For Scammers

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.

Each year a large number of people are scammed by companies or individuals posing as a legitimate moving company. There are also several types of moving scams run by what appear to be otherwise legitimate companies, which can be very costly for consumers.

Packing up to move
Credit: Jessica Spengler (WordRidden on Flickr)/CC by 2.0 with Attribution

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 right from the get-go. Here are some of the best ways to avoid the schemers:

1. 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 several estimates, at least three, and don't rely on online quotes. Have the company come to your home and do a written estimate, recommends the Better Business Bureau (BBB). You can also check on the Internet to find websites which feature a "black list" of problem companies and also provides message boards where consumers can post experiences. There are several "scam sites" that give consumers a heads up.

2. Hire By Word of Mouth

Word of mouth is often the best way to find any service or product. 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.

3. Check Mover 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 and find another moving company. Also, always check to see if any business you are considering to trust with your possessions is registered with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). 1

4. Closely Examine Contracts

As you choose your company, be sure the moving 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 due to some unanticipated expenses, 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.

Man moving possessions
Credit: shira gal (miss pupik on Flickr)/CC by 2.0 with Attribution

If anything about your moving agreement seems fuzzy, run the other way, don't let scammers walk off with your cash or your possessions.

5. Other Warning Signs

According to an ABC News report, another sign to look for is unmarked trucks. 2 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 its own equipment, how will it 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". 3

Unmarked Moving Truck
Credit: Oregon Department of Transportation/CC by 2.0 with Attribution

Photo description on Flickr: "ODOT partnered with Ashland Police Department to raise awareness about unlicensed movers. Always choose a licensed mover."

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. The less ethical ones, not so much.

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.

6. 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 by a mover, you can file a complaint. A good website resource is the U.S. Department of Transportation's website "Protect Your Move". 4

According to the BBB, in 2012 the agency received more than 1.4 million moving-related inquiries and over 9,300 complaints issued against movers. 5 In 2013, more than 10,000 complaints were filed against movers. By knowing what to look for you can avoid becoming one of these victims. While sadly, there are many moving scammers out there, there are reputable companies that do a great job with moving your possessions. I've personally experienced both. My original mover was a "hostage" mover - held my possessions in another state (not the state of origin, and long beyond the agreed upon time frame; I went without my stuff for about a month and a few pieces of furniture had been banged up a bit). The next time I knew what to look for and had a great experience with no damage to my possessions.

Moving is stressful enough. Just remember what to watch for and you can avoid being scammed.