Special Edition - How to protect yourself from moving scams:
Internet ScamBusters #89
The #1 Publication on Internet Fraud
By Audri and Jim Lanford
Copyright © Audri and Jim Lanford
All rights reserved.
Today we're going to tell you about a whole area of scams you may not even be aware of -- moving scams. Or perhaps you don't realize how big a problem moving scams can be.
Since so many people move at this time of year, we recommend you share these warnings with your friends, neighbors, and colleagues who are moving.
First, a quick suggestion: Since we've had a lot of questions this week about home security, if you've subscribed to Internet ScamBusters in the past six months, we recommend you check out this important article on home security.
OK. Let's get right to it...
How to Protect Yourself From Moving Scams
Moving? It's easy to get excited about moving someplace new... you've got your promotion, you've found a new home, and you're ready to relocate halfway across the country.
Life is good!
Until you try to find a moving company, that is... then you may find you've entered a nightmare world you knew nothing about beforehand, and still wish you didn't: moving scams.
The moving industry seems to be much more scam-ridden than many other industries. Most people don't know this.
Here's a brief background:
Prior to 1980, there were only a few major national moving companies that were permitted to move goods across state lines. In 1980, the Household Goods Transportation Act was passed, giving movers the right to provide customers with 'binding estimates' -- meaning, they could now compete on the basis of price instead of just customer service.
The Act also had the effect of helping to create a whole new generation of moving companies, and so, of course, competition became fiercer.
The end result was that movers had to set lower and lower prices to get your business, which meant that it became more difficult to make a profit.
Some of them turned to some questionable practices at that point -- and this sometimes amounted to holding your goods 'hostage' while they demanded that you pay some trumped-up extra charges.
In other words, you might be given an estimate of $2000, for example, to move your household. It sounds reasonable, and you agree and sign the contract.
But when the truck shows up at your new home (sometimes weeks after they were supposed to, but that's another story!) with all your worldly goods, the bill has suddenly mushroomed to $4300 -- and you are forced to pay because the mover refuses to unload your goods until you do.
In some cases, additional information has been added to the contract after you signed it -- and if you try to fight it, you'll find there may be very little legal recourse available to you.
We were surprised at the scope of the horror stories we heard when we started researching this article on moving scams. Here are a couple of examples:
- One company showed up to move a Florida family, and made the woman sign a blank contract before they would agree to pack up her belongings. The 'estimate' then doubled, and because she protested, they still hadn't delivered her goods six weeks later.
- Another company gave a Maine fellow a quote over the telephone for the cost of his move based on the estimated number of pounds. Once his household goods were loaded on the truck, the driver informed him that estimate wouldn't apply because the 'cubic feet' of his goods far exceeded the estimate, and would have to be paid accordingly. Several days of telephone calls later -- and then only after he threatened legal action -- his goods were finally delivered.
Unfortunately, there are lots of other stories like this from reputable folks -- right across the land.
Here are some things you can do to protect yourself -- and to make sure you don't become a victim of these moving scams:
1. The most drastic solution: sell everything and start again. This may sound extreme, but dozens of people who've had their household goods held up by a moving company wish now that they had done this.
2. Move yourself. We know this is not always practical either, but it's something to seriously consider. Rent a truck, round up your friends to help pack and load your household goods, and drive away yourself. There are several reputable firms from whom you can lease a vehicle and 'do it yourself.'
If you don't want to do it all yourself, there are companies that will pack and load the rental truck for you. We had a good experience with one such company many years ago.
3. If you decide to hire a moving company, check references very carefully. Be especially careful with Internet-based movers. There are obviously reputable firms online, but there are an unusual number of horror stories from customers who hired movers online.
4. Get referrals from local real estate firms, and then get several estimates -- in writing -- from the companies you've chosen. Do everything you can to check out the moving company in advance. Do a search online to make sure the company isn't already a known scammer; go to the address of the company and check out their yard and their trucks.
Once you think you've found a reputable company, here's a list of the information you want to get from them:
1. The full legal company name (including any 'dba' names).
2. Length of time in business.
3. Full legal company address and all phone numbers.
4. Get their Dept. of Transport and any other State or Federal license numbers.
5. Most importantly, ask them for references -- and call them.
6. Find out if the company is insured... start here:
7. Call the FMCSA's consumer complaints hotline at 1-888-368-7238 to inquire about the company's history.
Finally, make sure you are given a copy of a booklet called "Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move." Moving companies are legally obligated to give it you. But needless to say, scammers will NOT want you to have that information. :-) You can get a copy online here:
Meanwhile, if you hire a moving company, be sure to educate and inform yourself especially carefully before you sign on the dotted line.
Final note: There are certainly good and reasonable moving companies. We have moved several times using local and national moving companies, and aside from scratched furniture, have had good experiences. So, be careful but realize that all movers are NOT scam artists.
Wishing you a great week...