A lot of things take place in a consumer’s life during a typical summer. This includes vacations, getting ready for a new school, and for nearly five million last year, moving out of state to take a new job.
That last part -- moving -- is causing heightened concern in COVID-19 circles. According to a new study by the Better Business Bureau (BBB), the pandemic has opened the door for added competition and new practices for moving companies. This has led the organization to issue new guidance for consumers who are unfamiliar with the process so they can spot a fraud and find a trustworthy company.
Out of the millions of moving jobs, the BBB gets hit with an average of 13,000 complaints a year. Most stem from an innocent online search for movers where unknowing consumers are likely to be hit with a barrage of ads by dishonest movers, or “rogue operators” as they are called in the moving industry.
“The bad actor usually offers a free estimate over the phone or email with a low-ball offer,” the BBB says. “The website looks legitimate, usually with phony reviews from happy customers and a claim to have been in business for many years with well-trained employees. So-called independent mover review sites also may post fake positive write-ups for the moving scammer.”
The #1 con job
The mark of a good scammer is the ability to pull off a customer experience par none, luring the customer in for the kill. At the outset, double-dealing moving company representatives are friendly and helpful when a potential customer first calls. But, when all heck breaks loose, company staff are nowhere to be found.
Dishonest movers have several gambits they depend on. One of the frequent strategies -- as a matter of fact, 57 percent of the time -- is asking, then processing, a hefty down payment. After the money is in the bank, the dishonest moving company then outsources the work to an operation that hires temporary or unskilled workers to load up the customer’s belongings.
Then, once the customer’s entire life is boxed up and on the truck, the driver claims that the actual amount of goods to be moved is over and above the initial estimate. They demand more money and the customer usually pays up rather than going into a hassle and a half.
“When the goods finally arrive at the new home, sometimes days or weeks after promised, the deceptive mover sometimes demands additional money, effectively holding the belongings hostage,” the BBB’s guidance warns.
“If the additional money isn’t paid, the operators simply drive off without unloading or saying where they are taking the goods. Furthermore, some victims report that they then face demands of additional storage fees for the items held hostage.”
Who’s legit and who’s not?
The BBB cautions anyone who is moving out of state to check out movers before signing anything or paying anyone money. You can check both with the BBB and ConsumerAffairs on who the best moving companies are, and which are credentialed members of the American Moving & Storage Association (AMSA). The U.S. Department of Transportation also offers a search for the safety and fitness records of moving companies. That online search is available here.
On top of those three background checks, here are some other things consumers should look out for:
How long the mover has been around. The good ones have been in business for decades and are licensed.
How much of a deposit do they require? The BBB says the good ones may collect relatively small deposits up front and collect the final payment after goods are delivered and unloaded.
Read the reviews of other customers. If someone gives a moving company a low rating, you might want to run fast the other way.
A good deal is not always a good deal. Paying a modest price doesn’t amount to much if your furniture goes missing, shows up broken, or you’re asked for more money when the movers show up. When ConsumerAffairs searched for “affordable honest moving company near me,” we got 223,000,000 results. There’s probably a lot of hooey in that bunch, so proceed with caution.
“One method to identify a shady mover is to do an internet search using the mover’s name and the word ‘scam,’” the BBB suggests. “If you find reports about movers demanding more money in order to deliver goods, it may be a shady operator.”