The Threat of Moving Scams: What You Need to Know
Avoid losing money and your most prized possessions by following these seven steps.
Doing your due diligence can save you time, money and hassle when finding the right movers.(Getty Images)
For many, moving to a new home is when you’re most vulnerable. Not only are you packing up all your belongings, but you’re also leaving your home to put roots down elsewhere.
Unfortunately, when we’re at our most vulnerable is when other people will try to take advantage. Whether it’s a scam posing as a legitimate company purely to take your money or an actual business loading your belongings on a truck only to demand more money from you to deliver them, the American Moving and Storage Association says thousands of unassuming consumers fall victim each year.
AMSA issued a press release in January that tells the story of one moving scam in which a network of Florida-based moving companies with ties to St. Louis misappropriated the name of a genuine company based out of Manassas, Virginia – Able Moving & Storage – and listed an unrelated license number issued to a completely different business on its website, according to Scott Michael, president and CEO of AMSA. The legitimate Virginia-based business reported to AMSA that roughly 80 consumers affected by the scam company have contact it so far.
The Florida-based company in question, according to the Better Business Bureau's alert on the group, is a rogue mover operating the most common type of scam. With this scam, you get an estimate (typically a low one), but once all your prized possessions are in the truck, the mover will demand far more money than was estimated to complete the job.
“They may say it while the truck is sitting in your old driveway or, worse, you may get to your new house and they say, ‘We’re not delivering your stuff until you give us more money,’” says Katherine Hutt, director of communications for the Council of Better Business Bureaus.
In other cases, the scam manifests as a simple money grab, as Hutt describes: “They just take your money. They’ll ask for a deposit – a third [of the cost] or whatever – and then they’ll just take your money, and you’ll never hear from them again.”
While recovering money from a scammer who disappears after taking your deposit may be difficult, don’t be afraid to call the police when you’re being denied access to your property. “If they’re physically holding your goods ransom, you should definitely go to the police, because that is blatantly illegal,” Hutt says.
Of course, the goal is to avoid predatory moving companies from the start and to have a smooth, successful move that isn’t any more stressful than it needs to be. Follow these seven steps to ensure you’re hiring a reputable moving company that’s right for the job – and won't cause you any extra headaches.
Get three estimates. As with any type of service you hire in regard to your home, you should interview more than one company and do thorough research on all those you consider. “It’s an important vetting process to make sure you know the company,” Michael says.
More specifically, “those should be in-home estimates,” Hutt says. A moving company that doesn’t want to visit your home is more likely to argue that you didn't accurately describe your belongings for the estimate and demand more money from you once the truck is loaded.
Check with the BBB and other reporting organizations. Organizations like the Better Business Bureau can reveal if a company has received complaints from previous customers that may set off a red flag for you. You can also determine if the business appears to be attentive and genuine.
Check out sites like Yelp and others that specialize in reviewing moving companies, but be careful what sources you look at, says Mike Glanz, co-founder and CEO of HireAHelper.com: “There’s certain websites out there that make money off moving company advertisements.”
Follow up with out-of-state headquarters. To avoid falling prey to scams like the one occurring in St. Louis, if the company you’re researching appears to have an out-of-state headquarters, call the main company line to confirm they have a record of the local affiliate you’re talking to, as well as a record of your previous inquiry.
“Look online and try to find the headquarters of the established mover, and make sure that they are affiliated with whoever you’re dealing with,” Michael says.
Check out the address. A genuine moving company is going to have an office and place to keep the moving trucks when they’re not in use. If it’s local, drive past the company’s address to verify the address is valid and not residential. If you can't get to the property, Google Street View can be a good substitute, but be mindful of how long ago the image was taken.
Consider changing your moving plan. Whether you’ve fallen victim to a moving scam before or just don’t like the idea of handing over everything you own to strangers, you have options.
You can go with a hybrid move – where you rent the truck and hire laborers separately at your existing place, then drive the truck yourself to your new home and hire another set of movers there to help you unload the truck.
Glanz admits he’s a bit biased, since HireAHelper.com provides the service of vetting and connecting consumers with the movers for a hybrid move, but he finds many individuals are looking for a more cost-effective alternative to the pricey, sometimes treacherous world of moving.
“People are starting to realize there is just a little too much risk associated with hiring a company with control of all your possessions,” Glanz says.
Check for replacement insurance. While additional insurance isn’t necessarily the difference between a rogue mover and legitimate business, it can help ensure you’re satisfied with the quality of the move.
All moving companies are required by the federal government to carry insurance, but minimal coverage, or released value protection, assumes liability for a maximum of 60 cents per pound. So if a 100-pound TV gets damaged during the move and doesn’t work anymore, you’ll receive just $60 from the mover – “Even if that TV cost you $2,000,” Glanz says.
While it will add more to the total cost of your move, full value protection will ensure the mover repairs any damaged item to the same condition and working order or replaces it with a like product. You can learn more about coverage for a move through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Ask about truck suspension for long-distance moves. You can also minimize the chances of incurring damage to your belongings by inquiring about the type of truck that will be moving your goods from one state to another.
Glanz notes a truck with air-ride suspension is the safer option over steel spring suspension, keeping your possessions from knocking around during the trip. If the truck does not have air-ride suspension, "you’re five to 10 times more likely to incur damage across the country,” he says.