How to avoid moving scams
10 ways to protect yourself from moving fraud
It’s easy to fall for a moving scam because scammers often look legitimate, sound friendly and seem to be on the up-and-up. But beware — they might run away with your deposit, charge you hidden fees or hijack your belongings.
10 red flags for moving scams
If this is your first time hiring a professional mover or you haven’t moved in a while, it’s good to review the most common signs of a scam:
- You can’t find company information: If you're on a mover’s website and can’t find a physical address, mover’s registration or proof of insurance, that’s a red flag. Another warning sign is if you call and hear a response on the phone starting with something generic like “movers” or “moving company” instead of a specific brand name.
- The company only does phone estimates: If a company refuses to come to your home to make a final estimate, that’s a red flag. Some scammers make rough estimates over the phone, accept your deposit and vanish. A legitimate company comes to your home to determine an accurate estimate. It’s also a red flag if a mover grudgingly agrees to inventory your items but only gives them a cursory glance.
- The mover demands a significant down payment: A small down payment is normal (usually under 20%), but scammers sometimes ask for large down payments, pocket them and disappear. Another common moving scam involves holding your items and demanding more money to return them — these scammers are called "rogue movers."
- The bid is suspicious: If one quote is dramatically lower than the other, that’s a red flag. Also, be wary of companies who refuse to put estimates in writing.
- The moving company doesn’t mention your rights and responsibilities: By law, licensed movers must provide their customers with a packet entitled “Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move” before interstate moves.
- The company has gone through several name changes: If you can trace the company’s history through multiple recent name changes, that’s a bad sign. Companies with subpar consumer reviews often do this to mislead prospective customers and get around previous negative coverage.
- The mover insists its quote is “ironclad”: If the company says your quote is set in stone and won’t change, be careful. Most quotes are subject to change if the weight of your household belongings is more than expected.
- The insurance supposedly covers everything: If a mover claims its insurance covers absolutely everything, be skeptical. Typical protection starts at 60 cents per pound, meaning the company reimburses you that amount for the total weight of all your belongings if they're damaged, destroyed or lost.
- The truck is not marked: If a truck is unmarked, it might be part of a scam. A reputable moving company will have signage on their truck. This is not to say that a scammer won’t have signage, but if a moving truck shows up and it isn’t marked, consider that a red flag.
- The company charges by cubic foot or volume: Movers should charge by weight. A company may be able to get by doing it another way on smaller moves, but charging by volume or cubic foot for interstate moves is actually illegal if there is not a weight conversion attached.
A good rule of thumb is, if something doesn’t sit quite right with you about the company or you have a gut feeling something is off, then it probably is. At the very least, research your movers thoroughly. If anything seems wrong, find another company. It’s not worth the risk.
Tips to protect yourself from fraudulent movers
There are also things you can do proactively to protect yourself from fake moving companies. These steps greatly reduce your chance of being scammed:
- Check their license: By law, all interstate movers must be licensed, and some states may also require licenses for local movers. Before you put down a large deposit, look the mover up on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration company database. The U.S. Department of Transportation also has a tool that allows you to see if a moving company is officially registered, licensed and insured.
- Pay with a credit card: Credit card payments are insured in case something goes wrong. If you get scammed after paying with cash, don’t expect to ever see your money again.
- Understand the terms and conditions: Read your contract and understand the ins and outs before signing. Look for set pickup and drop-off dates. It should also be clear how the company calculated your charges.
- Keep an inventory of your possessions: A written list is the best way to account for everything. Consider numbering your boxes to keep track of them, too.
- Read reviews: Comparing moving company reviews is a great way to get a sense of previous customer experiences. Don’t just look at the star rating, though. Make sure you read what previous customers have to say — that’s where you get the whole story. If you can’t find any reviews or the only reviews are the ones on the company’s own website, that’s a bad sign.
- Don’t sign a partial or blank contract: Whatever you sign should be comprehensive. Unscrupulous movers might give you a low or competitive price, then drive the price up by adding on fees that you weren’t aware of.
- Plan in advance: If you plan ahead, you’re more likely to find an experienced, legitimate company. This is because a longer time frame gives you more time to research and makes you less likely to fall for a scam.
- Ask around for a recommendation: Get recommendations from people you trust, like family and friends. Real estate agents are often a great resource, too.
- Consider moving insurance: Moving insurance offers protection for your household goods if they are damaged or lost during your move. Policies differ, though, so find the right one for you. For more, read about when moving insurance is worth it.
- Take notes: Document everything from the first contact until the mover drops off your belongings.
How to choose a reputable mover instead
The best way to ensure you choose a reputable mover is to check pricing. Legitimate companies usually have similar prices because they calculate their rates based on the weight of your belongings.
You’re making someone responsible for all of your possessions — it’s best to pay a little more to be sure you aren’t getting caught up in a moving company scam.
- Get several moving estimates: Beyond helping you compare costs, this also lets you establish a normal price range so you can spot outliers.
- Ask for recommendations: Practically everyone moves from time to time. Friends, family and co-workers are likely to have recommendations from past experience.
- Read consumer reviews: The longer a company’s history, the better. A strong history of positive reviews is a good indicator that a company is a good choice.
- Look up a company’s registration: As mentioned above, checking a company’s registration helps you confirm it is legitimate.
- Don’t automatically choose the lowest moving estimate: It’s normal to want to save money, but you shouldn’t necessarily sell the opportunity to handle all your possessions to the lowest bidder, especially if that bid is significantly lower than the others.
Moving scams FAQ
- How do moving scams work?
Moving scams vary, so it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how they work. There are some common traits, though:
- Scammers commonly advertise artificially low prices to attract victims. If they're successful, they might steal your money or your possessions.
- Scammers take advantage of desperate and inexperienced consumers. Some people don’t know what to expect from movers, and even people who do know better may ignore their instincts in a pinch. Unscrupulous movers take advantage of these situations to charge extra.
- How do I know if a moving company is legitimate?
There are a few things you can do to confirm a moving company is legitimate:
- Check to see if it has an online presence.
- Make sure it has a physical address, proof of insurance and verified reviews.
- Confirm its registration with the DOT or FMCSA.
- How do you deal with a bad moving company?
First, try to resolve the issue with the company itself. Keep a level head and make your issues known. It helps if you spell out what the company can do to resolve the problem.
If the issue is left unresolved, report it. You can file a report against the company by contacting the FMCSA’s National Consumer Complaint Database.
- Can you sue a moving company for theft?
- You can sue, but the burden of proof will be on you to show that the agents or employees of the moving company were the ones who stole your belongings. Consult with an attorney to find out what the applicable local, state and federal laws are and whether you need to sue in small claims court, county court or circuit court. You should also file a police report.
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