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Types of Moving Scams to Watch Out For

Every year thousands of people in the United States find themselves victims of moving companies that present themselves as legitimate, but are anything but genuine. These fraudsters will use a number of tricks to scam people out of their money.

Known as "moving scams", there are a number of different ways these schemers work. Unfortunately, every year many people fall victim to what appears to be a legitimate business. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) reported in 2012 it received more than 9,300 complaints against movers1. For consumers, being a victim of a moving scam is often costly, not to mention disruptive.

Moving scams vary from outright fraud to operating with questionable practices. Some of the more commonly seen moving scams include:

Unexpected Increase in Fees

One of the more common scams is a scenario where a mover will give a very low estimate, or at least in a lower fee range compared to competitors. Sounds great right? Not necessarily. In these cases, after the movers load the customer's stuff on to their trucks and do the move, at the other end they demand more money from the customer. 

Typical schemes include adding extra charges for packing, taxes, hidden fees, "bait and switch" or other miscellaneous charges. While it is common the price of a move may increase slightly at the destination point due to unexpected expenses that were missed in the original estimate, these charges should not be excessive and within a reasonable range of what was quoted.

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Belongings are Held 'Hostage'

The disreputable movers will sometimes hold belongings hostage and refuse to unload the truck if a customer refuses to pay the fees. This is a form of extortion illegitimate companies will use in their scheming tactics.

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Another way personal possessions are held hostage is when a mover does not deliver on the originally agreed upon terms. Since it is costly to travel long distances, some scheming companies will let your belongings sit on the truck or in a warehouse until they are ready to deliver and/or will be in the same area with another customer. Some victims may not see their possessions for a month or even longer if they ever see their belongings again at all. The latter happened to me. Several years ago, I made a distant move and hired a moving company to take the items that were too heavy to carry in my car. It took over a month to get my stuff back, and that was with me hammering away calling them constantly. I was consistently blown off and/or lied to with each call.

Fortunately, my possessions eventually arrived. Unfortunately, there was some damage (cosmetic) to some of  my furniture, but there was no recourse for that -- and the damage wasn't extensive enough to pursue with these crooks. It would have cost me more than it was worth. 

I was lucky I suppose, many people reportedly never see their possessions again.

Unlicensed Illegal Operators

In the United States, being an authorized mover requires more than employees and a truck. There are several procedures and laws movers are required to follow. However, some shady people will rent a truck and try to pass themselves off as a legitimate moving company.

Knowing your rights is helpful, and keep in mind, licensed movers are required to be registered and are also supposed to give customers with a copy of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's "Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move" while you are in the planning stages3.

If they can't do this, quickly close the door on this agreement and find another mover.

Avoiding Moving Scams 

The best way to find a mover is to check reputable listings. Many online sites have forums where users can share information about both good and bad experiences. However, the best way to find a good mover is probably through word of mouth. Ask your family, friends, colleagues or a trusted real estate agent. Many real estate agents are highly knowledgeable about local businesses in the areas they work in and can probably recommend a reliable mover to do business with for your upcoming move. Also, definitely look up any company to see if any complaints have been lodged against it.

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Unfortunately, moving scams are a reality. But the good news is there are steps you can take to avoid being a victim. While avoiding scams is sometimes tricky, on the plus side, there are many red flags to look for that help you identify moving scammers before your possessions are placed in their trust. I wish I knew these before I hired one for my move.

By being armed with the knowledge of both your rights and the company's legal responsibilities, you can hopefully avoid the frauds and the hassle associated with these schemers and have a more pleasant move.

After all, moving is enough of a stress, no one wants the extra aggravation associated with a scammer.