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Moving to a new home is an exciting experience filled with new beginnings and opportunities. However, the adventure of relocating can quickly turn into a nightmare if you fall prey to a moving company scam. Scammers can manipulate you into signing shady contracts, hold your belongings hostage, or disappear with your possessions altogether.
Fortunately, you can take steps to protect yourself. By knowing what to look for, you can avoid being scammed and have a relatively stress-free move with a reputable moving company. In this article, we’ll discuss common moving scams, offer tips on avoiding them, and guide you through filing a complaint if you believe you’ve been scammed.
What Is a Moving Company Scam?
A moving company scam is any fraudulent activity perpetrated by a moving company that takes advantage of a customer during the relocation process. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) refers to this type of activity as moving fraud. Common examples of moving fraud include deliberately lowballing a moving estimate, then asking for more money later, or withholding a customer’s belongings until they pay an extra fee.
Note that unexpected fees or complications during the moving process do not always constitute scams. For example, the moving company is within its rights to charge additional fees if you add more items to your inventory or misrepresent the size, weight, or number of household goods being moved. Additionally, some situations are outside of the moving company’s control, including weather delays or moving truck breakdowns.
The key to identifying a moving scam is transparency. If the moving company is transparent about its fees and policies from the beginning, you likely have not been the victim of a scam. However, a company that is intentionally misleading or deceptive has likely committed some form of moving fraud.
Common Moving Company Scams
Learning more about moving fraud can help you avoid choosing a disreputable mover. Here are six of the most common scams:
Some moving companies intentionally overcharge. They provide a low initial estimate to secure your business, then add fees once they have your belongings. They may claim the inventory was larger than initially estimated or charge for extra packing materials, among other things. This is also called a bait-and-switch scam.
To avoid this scam, get a written estimate that outlines all fees and charges that will be associated with your move—preferably a binding estimate. It’s best to get an on-site inspection of your inventory to ensure the estimate is accurate. You can also check online reviews to see how past customers feel about the company’s pricing and transparency.
Some disreputable moving companies will hold your belongings hostage. In this scam, a mover will refuse to deliver your items until you pay additional charges that were not disclosed in the contract. They may also refuse to unload your items until you sign a release or waiver.
To avoid this scam, make sure you have a detailed contract that outlines all of the service fees and terms associated with your move. Carefully read any documents you are asked to sign, especially if they are presented at the last minute or after your belongings have been loaded onto the truck. Before hiring a company, ensure they have a reputation for delivering items on time and in good condition.
If the moving company loads your belongings onto a truck and then disappears, you have fallen victim to a disappearing movers scam. This scam is similar to the hostage items scam, but instead of demanding more money, the movers simply cease contact and abscond with your belongings.
To avoid this scam, look for reputable companies with a proven track record of on-time deliveries and positive customer reviews. Pay extra attention to reviews that mention the company’s customer service, communication, and tracking portals.
Fraudulent moving companies may provide fake credentials, such as a bogus U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) number or other certifications. This makes it harder for customers to identify scams.
To avoid this scam, make sure you verify the USDOT number and any other credentials provided by the moving company. Start by looking up the company on the FMCSA website to ensure its USDOT number matches official records.
Some fraudulent movers will provide an estimate and charge an up-front deposit, then never show up on moving day. Note that charging a deposit to book your move does not always indicate a scam. However, failing to show up—especially without any communication or explanation in advance—is never a good sign.
To avoid this scam, research companies as thoroughly as possible before booking. Look up the company’s Better Business Bureau (BBB) rating, USDOT number, and customer reviews, and pass on any company that charges an unusually large deposit.
Red Flags to Look Out For
As you vet moving companies, look for red flags that could indicate a scam, such as unprofessional behavior and lack of transparency. We’ve listed a few common red flags below:
- Answering the phone with “movers” or “moving company” rather than a specific name
- Asking you to sign a blank contract or one with vague terms
- Claiming all goods are covered by their insurance
- Demanding large deposits or cash payments up-front
- Lacking proper licensing and insurance, including a valid USDOT number
- Not answering questions or providing only vague answers
- Not having or refusing to provide a physical address
- Not providing a copy of “Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move”
- Providing an estimate online or over the phone, sight unseen
- Raising the price or charging hidden fees without cause
- Refusing to provide a written estimate or contract prior to booking
- Refusing to provide references or customer reviews
- Showing up in unmarked or rented vehicles
Generally, it’s a good idea to get everything in writing and question any terms or charges you do not understand. If you encounter unusual requests or excessive fees, do not move forward with that company until you are sure it is legitimate and reputable.
When to Report a Moving Company Scam
If you believe you have been scammed by a moving company, you should report it to the proper authorities. For interstate moves, start by contacting the FMCSA. This department is responsible for regulating interstate movers and enforcing federal laws related to the moving industry. For local moves within your state, file a complaint with your state’s Attorney General or consumer protection agency. You can also file a complaint with the BBB.
You should file a complaint if the company has engaged in fraudulent activity, such as overcharging, holding your belongings hostage, or providing a low initial estimate that was later increased without justification.
How to File a Complaint
To file a complaint against a moving company, you can follow these steps:
- Gather all relevant information: This includes your contract, invoices, and any other documentation related to your move.
- Contact the moving company: Attempt to resolve the issue directly with the moving company. If that fails, move on to steps three through five.
- File a complaint with the FMCSA: You can do this by calling 1-888-DOT-SAFT (1-888-368-7238) or filling out a complaint form on the FMCSA website. The FMCSA hotline is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, Eastern time.
- File a complaint with your state: The FMCSA website lists state law enforcement resources that can help. You can also contact your local police department for guidance.
- Share your experience online: Consider leaving reviews online to warn others about your negative experience.
Filing a complaint can help you seek recourse for any damages or losses you may have suffered due to the moving company’s fraudulent activity.
How to Find a Quality Moving Company
Finding a quality moving company can be challenging, but there are steps you can take to ensure that you choose a reputable, trustworthy mover. Here are some tips for finding and vetting a moving company:
- Get recommendations: Ask friends and family members for recommendations for moving companies they have used in the past and had a positive experience with. Your real estate agent may also be able to offer a recommendation.
- Research online: Use online resources, such as the BBB, Yelp, or Trustpilot, to research moving companies and read reviews from past customers.
- Get multiple quotes: Contact several moving companies to get written estimates. This will help you compare prices and services to choose the best options for your needs.
- Check licensing and insurance: Verify that the moving company is licensed and insured by checking their credentials in the FMCSA registered mover database.
- Ask for references: Ask the moving company for references from past customers who have completed a move similar to yours. Contact these references to ask about their experience with the moving company.
- Evaluate professionalism: Look for signs of professionalism, such as branded trucks and uniforms and courteous and knowledgeable customer service representatives, as you interact with a company.
Falling victim to a moving scam can turn an already stressful experience into a nightmare. However, by understanding the most common moving scams and taking steps to avoid them, you can ensure a successful move. Some of the most common scams include overcharging, holding your belongings hostage, and deliberately providing lowball estimates.
To avoid these scams, do your homework and thoroughly vet any moving company you are considering. This includes getting multiple quotes from local or long-distance movers, verifying the company’s credentials and insurance, and checking their references and customer reviews. Additionally, be wary of any company that demands large cash payments up-front, refuses to provide a written estimate, or asks you to sign a blank contract.
Moving Company Scams FAQ
What can you do if you get scammed by a moving company?
If you get scammed by a moving company, you can take several steps to seek justice and recover your losses:Contact a consumer protection agency, such as the BBB.File a complaint with the FMCSA.File a complaint with state law enforcement.File a lawsuit against the moving company.
How do moving scams work?
Moving scams work in different ways, depending on the scammer’s tactics. These scams typically involve fraudulent moving companies that engage in illegal or unethical practices to take advantage of unsuspecting customers.For instance, in an overcharging scam, the moving company may provide a low initial estimate, then raise the price by charging for services that were not originally agreed upon. In a hostage scam, the company may refuse to deliver your belongings until you pay additional fees that were not disclosed up-front.
How do I know if a moving company is legitimate?
You can take several steps to know if a moving company is legitimate:Ask for references and read reviews.Beware of unusual requests and unprofessionalism.Check the company’s credentials.Get a written estimate and detailed contract.