Moving scams take advantage of inexperienced consumers. Scammers commonly advertise artificially low prices to trick people into falling for a moving scheme. If they're successful, they might steal your money or your possessions. In this resource, we tell you the top red flags to look for, how to protect yourself from scams and how to find a legitimate mover.
8 red flags for moving scams
Certain red flags almost always indicate a moving scam. 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 that you’re looking at 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 company 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 moving company grudgingly agrees to inventory your items but gives no more than a cursory glance before giving you an estimate.
- The mover demands a significant down payment: A small down payment is normal, but scammers sometimes ask for large down payments, pocket them and disappear. Another common scam involves holding your items and demanding more money to return them.
- The bid is suspicious: Bids can be suspicious in several ways. 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: We mean this literally. 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 several name changes, that’s a bad sign. Companies with subpar consumer reviews often do this as a tactic to throw off prospective customers and get around previously negative coverage.
- The moving company 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. Be wary of any business that promises not to change a quote under any circumstances.
- 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.
10 tips to protect yourself from fraudulent movers
It helps to know the best practices to protect yourself from fraudulent movers. Take these steps to greatly reduce your chance of being scammed.
- 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.
- Confirm licensing: If you’re moving between states, use this tool from the U.S. Department of Transportation to see if the company you want to work with is officially registered.
- 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.
- Ask questions: If you’re confused, ask a question. Legitimate movers should be happy to help. If you get pushback for being too inquisitive, look for another company.
- Check with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration: If you’re not sure whether you’ve encountered a scam, check with the FMCSA. This agency is a key regulator of commercial trucking and can help you.
- Don’t sign a partial or blank contract: Whatever you sign should be comprehensive. Make sure you understand every detail before signing and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
- Don’t allow movers to load your things into an unmarked truck: If a truck is unmarked, it might be part of a scam. Scammers driving unmarked vans have been known to steal items or hold them for ransom.
- Plan in advance: If you plan in advance, you’re more likely to find an experienced, legitimate company. A longer time frame gives you more time to research and makes you less likely to fall for a scam.
- Ask your realtor for a recommendation: If you’ve worked with or are currently working with a trusted realtor, they can typically recommend a reliable moving company.
How to choose a reputable mover instead
The best way to ensure you choose a reputable mover is to look at pricing. Legitimate companies usually have similar prices because they calculate their rates based on the weight of your belongings. It’s mostly scammers that give unusually low estimates. 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 scam.
- Get several estimates. Beyond helping you compare prices, this also lets you establish a normal range so you can identify price outliers.
- Ask for recommendations. Practically everyone moves from time to time. Friends, family and co-workers are sure to have recommendations.
- Read consumer reviews. The longer a company’s history, the better. Beware companies with numerous name changes. Find a company with customers who praised the experience.
- Look up a company’s registration. Finding a company’s registration helps you confirm it is legitimate. Check with the U.S. Department of Transportation to verify registration.
- Don’t automatically choose the lowest estimate. It’s normal to want to save money, but you shouldn’t 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 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 U.S. Department of Transportation.
- 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 complaints known. It helps if you spell out what the company can do to resolve the problem. If the issue is left unresolved, file complaints with the U.S. Department of Transportation and the American Moving & Storage Association. The final step, if necessary, is to sue the moving company.
- Can you sue a moving company for theft?
- Yes, but you must prove that employees of the moving company were the ones who stole your possessions.