Moving is a stressful enough experience when things go well, but if you get caught in a moving scam, it could be a costly mistake.
If you are about to hire movers, understanding the common moving scams you could fall victim to will help you avoid being ripped off.
What are Moving Scams?
Movers will provide you with an estimate, pack up your stuff, and take it away. Then they might hit you with unexpected charges, effectively holding your possessions for ransom. You are then forced to pay these additional charges if you want your belongings back for your new home.
Common Moving Scams You Need to Be Aware Of
There are many types of moving scams and unless you're going to rent a U-Haul and move without professional help, you need to be aware of the most common moving scam. Below we cover the 7 most common.
Professional movers will want to get a very clear idea of your possessions before they give you an estimate of how much it will cost. A company that is going to scam you isn't going to care very much about accuracy.
They might give you an estimate over the phone, or if they do send a representative, it won't be very thorough. Good moving companies should go through your home, checking in closets and cabinets to give you a more precise estimate of the costs involved.
Their estimate should also have an expiration. In most industries, quotes expire after a certain time. If that isn't the case with your moving estimate, you should be wary.
If you call the movers and they don't answer with their exact business name, this could be a bad sign. Disreputable movers often change their business name and could even be using multiple names at the same time.
If the business has accumulated a bad reputation, changing the name of the company so that negative feedback doesn't appear when people search, is one solution.
If the company appears to be new, it doesn't necessarily mean that they are untrustworthy. But you should look elsewhere if they don't provide much company information on their website, without registration and insurance details.
Check the company's online feedback and their Better Business Bureau page before you decide to hire them.
While you will want to save as much as you can on moving expenses, choosing the lowest estimate could be a mistake. If one of your estimates is a lot lower than the others, how can they really provide the same service for so much less? Perhaps they are lowballing you before hitting you with extra charges later.
Make sure you get multiple estimates, so you can see what is a realistic quote and when someone is offering too much for too little.
While you might think your quote is guaranteed, there could be fine print in the contract that allows them to add costs to your bill if the weight exceeds the estimate. They might purposefully estimate the weight low so that they can charge more later.
Another way that moving companies could scam you is with packing fees. While their estimate might appear competitive, their packing fees could significantly increase your move's cost.
Avoid these exorbitant fees by not agreeing to add-ons where the final cost isn't clear. Choose flat-fee services when the costs seem reasonable.
If the movers ask for a large deposit upfront, they could disappear or just provide you with a terrible service. Generally, you shouldn't be paying more than 20% of the estimate upfront. If you do pay a deposit, don't use cash and keep records of the payment.
While the mover might claim they have full insurance to protect your possessions, you need more information. If they are unwilling to clarify or provide confirmation of this protection, you should think twice about using them.
There should be two levels of insurance provided when moving out-of-state; full replacement protection or alternative level liability. With full protection, they will replace the item with the same quality, they can repair it, or provide you with the money to replace or repair it. Alternative level liability might only cover 60 cents per pound per article of your items should they be lost or damaged, the minimum typically allowed under the law.
For out-of-state moves, the mover should give you a copy of "Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move." If they don't, they are ignoring federal regulations.
The mover is likely to charge more for full protection, but if they don't want to make this clear, it is a problem.
How to Avoid Moving Scams
Before hiring movers do the following:
- Research. Search the company name and read customer reviews. Check their Better Business Bureau page to find problems. While even the best companies might have a few complaints, a large number of unhappy customers should put you off.
- Get references. Ask them for references, if they don't have them or if they seem too similar it could be a problem.
- Get it in writing. Make sure they provide a written estimate and don't agree to hire them without a firm contract.
- USDOT. The movers should have a U.S. Department of Transportation number. This should be on their website and you can use it to research them with the Department of Transportation.
- Be there on the day. If you can, be present when the movers come to your home. This way, you can make sure they are doing things properly on moving day.
- Price changes. If the movers increase their prices at the last moment, don't allow them to load your possessions onto their trucks.
Final Thoughts on Scams to Avoid When Moving
While there are many moving scams out there, most home buyers don't experience this type of problem. Even so, you shouldn't be complacent and leave yourself open to being ripped off.
When buying a home, your finances are usually stretched already. If you take a few precautions when hiring movers, you can avoid a host of problems.