People are on the move all over the nation. Many want to relocate to find lower-priced communities or to start a new job. And an increasing number are leaving blue states for red. Legitimate moving companies know this. But so do scam artists—and many people are falling for moving company scams and getting ripped off.
Motivated by supply and demand, even legitimate moving companies are hiking prices. A December 2021 survey of 63 moving companies by Movebuddha found that 76 percent of moving companies reported raising prices, from 5 percent to over 25 percent.
In states like California, where 280,000 more people moved out than moved in in 2021, 44 percent of the companies surveyed had limited or suspended services as they struggle to meet demand. That means people joining the exodus from the state are likely to be vulnerable to scams as they struggle to find moving services.
Scams abound in the moving industry. If you fall for one of them, you may end up having to pay a lot more than agreed upon when the “movers” hold your household goods hostage. There are reports of customers who have been charged thousands more than what they were initially quoted.
Pods warns that some scam moving companies will charge you and then never show up to complete the move. Here are some tips to help you avoid getting scammed by phony moving companies.
Phony moving companies—particularly long-distance movers—often tip you off, if you know what to look for. Here are some of the more common signs of a scam:
- Low-ball estimate: Scammers will often quote you a price much lower than everyone else to get the job. After the move, they will charge you much more—or they will hold your goods hostage until you pay. Reputable and professional movers will almost always ask for payment only after completing the move, says Unimovers.
- No local address: The company’s website does not have a local address on it. Do an online search using Google Street View to determine if it is a legitimate address.
- Generic answer or email address: When you call, you get a generic answer—but not the name of an actual company. Be wary if the company gives you a generic email address that doesn’t include a specific name.
- No trackable transactions: The company demands a large deposit and wants you to pay only using cash, a postal money order, or a direct wire transfer. This company does not want you to use anything that can be tracked. However, Unimovers notes that some legitimate moving companies may ask for a deposit in the summer months, which is the busy season. It helps ensure that customers are ready on a certain day so that they do not have employees without work on that day.
- Limited-time deal: The company’s salespeople are pushy, trying to get you to sign up in a hurry. To secure your commitment quickly, scam companies may offer a limited-time or “one day only” deal.
- No on-site inspection: They are not willing to make a careful on-site inspection of your goods to give you an honest estimate. The company may provide a hard estimate over the phone. No legitimate moving company would do this: it cannot be realistic, because they charge based on weight and space on the truck. When you are given the bill—before they deliver the goods—they will cite extra weight and add charges, which possibly results in three times the original estimated cost.
- Truck without the company logo on: A truck arrives on moving day that does not have the company’s logo on it. This may seem like a no-brainer, but in the stress of moving, you may be tempted to ignore your suspicions. Remember that once your goods are in the moving truck you will have to meet the crooks’ demands to have them unloaded.
- Blank documents without details: The company offers blank documents to sign. The documents will not contain specific details about insurance coverage—including limits of liability, dates of pickup and delivery, etc.
Remember, once you’ve signed up and your belongings are in the truck—you have little leverage. Scammers could hold your valuables hostage. So make sure you perform extensive due diligence beforehand.
Do Your Research
Once you’ve signed the papers and your belongings are in the truck—you have little leverage. Scammers could hold your valuables hostage. So make sure you perform extensive due diligence beforehand.
Get a reference. You may know someone who had a good experience with their cross-country movers. Find out what company they liked, and why they recommend it. If you are working with a real estate agent, ask your agent to suggest a reputable moving company.
Legitimate interstate moving companies will be registered with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The FMCSA website will indicate whether the company is licensed and insured. The same website also lists complaints made against companies.
You can also find these complaints on the local website of the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Moving companies that have been proven to be phony are often given an “F” rating by the BBB. But be aware that some companies change their names to hide a history of bad BBB ratings.
Get quotes from two or three other well-known moving companies. Doing so will help you recognize low-ball estimates and avoid moving scams.
When making a local move, legitimate local movers will often charge based on the number of workers needed and the time it will take. It is also recommended that you get an estimate with a cap on it—which will limit your cost—even if it takes longer than expected.
Moving says that laws regulating moving companies will vary based on your location. To find regulations in your area, you can check with state, county, or consumer affairs agencies in your area, or your state’s attorney general.
Consider Using a Broker
You can also find a good moving company by using a broker. A broker does not move the goods but will arrange for a legitimate moving company. Before selecting a broker, make sure that it is registered on the FMCSA website, and get a list from the broker of all the moving companies they use. They should also have a physical address, and declare that they are a broker and that they do not move your goods. Additionally, they should make clear that their cost will be based on the charges of the moving company.
Scam or Inconvenience?
There are also some “inconveniences” that Forbes says do not constitute a scam. These can happen even during a move with a legitimate company. It’s important to be aware of the difference.
Even legitimate moving companies may charge up to 10 percent more because they have underestimated the actual cost of the move. And unfortunately, even with the best moving companies, some items may disappear or be damaged slightly.
Your move will be difficult enough without the additional headache of discovering that you hired a scam moving company. Choosing a legitimate moving company, with a proven track record, will make your move a more pleasant experience. To find your best moving options, shop around, perform due diligence, and think outside the envelope.
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