The Better Business Bureau receives over 10,000 complaints and poor reviews annually for moving companies. Some of these are scam and fraud claims.
In order to avoid being a victim, you need to go through a process that will allow you to sidestep the dishonest movers so that you can find the legitimate movers. This is especially important when dealing with interstate movers, as the costs are quite a bit higher than local moves.
Protect Your Move Website
ProtectYourMove.gov is a US federal government website dedicated to helping people avoid moving scams. This is sponsored by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The site contains valuable information to help you avoid being a victim to unscrupulous movers.
Some of the statistics provided by the FMCSA include:
- Approximately 10% of households move each year, and 25% of those moves are interstate
- The average interstate move costs thousands of dollars
- 5,900 complaints of movers were filed with the FMCSA in 2018 (latest data on their website)
- The average loss claim is approximately $16,200. Wow, that’s a lot!
- 39% of complaints reported lost or damaged personal property
- 57% of complaints were for overcharging
- 7% of complaints were for “hostage load situations”
Let’s take a look at how this site can help you avoid getting ripped off on your next move.
Protect Your Move has a company search tool right on the first page that lets you search the US database to see if the interstate mover is properly registered with the U.S. Department of Transportation (US DOT). It will also provide information about the company such as the company’s headquarters, contact information, complaints and safety ratings.
Steps to take when Moving
Although this government site is geared toward interstate moves, the guidelines and resources are good to follow anytime you are hiring out a full house move. The FMCSA has this webpage on the Protect Your Move website to help you avoid fraudsters when moving.
Your best defense to avoid scams and to have a good moving experience is to do the up front work to understand the moving process and to do all the preparation needed to vet out the movers by doing thorough research.
Some of the key steps to understand and follow as a consumer include:
- Make sure the potential mover is registered with the US DOT for Household goods moves and review their complaint history by searching for their name here (interstate moves)
- You can also check out your State Movers Association to get a list of movers, their contact information, and website information
- It is a good idea to check out their rating and complaints at the Better Business Bureau
- Getting a referral for a mover from friends, family, or real estate agents who have had good experiences can be a good start to help find a reputable moving company
- Understanding the difference between a broker and the actual moving company is important
- Make sure your Mover gives you Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move booklet as they are required under federal moving laws
- Your Mover must provide you with a written estimate of the move cost after physically reviewing your belongings
- A binding estimate provides more certainty to the cost than a non-binding estimate. When using non-binding estimates the mover is required to take weight measurements of the load as that impacts the price. You have the right to be present during all weighing measurements.
Additional Key Steps to Take
- Do not sign blank documents. Each page should be completed in full before signing.
- The Mover is required to offer you Full Value Protection insurance coverage of your goods as part of their total cost estimate
- You should get a sign-off on each page of the belongings being moved, along with any damaged noted. This is typically done at the time the truck is being loaded. You will need to do the same when the items are delivered to ensure you received all items in the same condition. Any additional damage should be noted on the paperwork.
- Your mover is required to give you a Bill of Lading (BOL) document when your belongings are being loaded. There are 17 important elements of the BOL that you should review. These are listed in the Responsibilities booklet mentioned above. Don’t sign the BOL if you don’t agree with something in it. Both parties are required to sign and date the BOL.
- Your mover is generally required to deliver your belongings if you pay 100% of the binding estimate or 110% of the non-binding estimate. If you don’t pay the agreed amount, the mover has a right to hold your belongings in storage (at your expense) until you pay the amount due.
- You have nine months after the date of delivery to file a loss or damage claims with your mover
Please see the Moving Checklist Page for the online or PDF copy of the complete moving checklist. This will help guide you through the process.
It is important that you read the “Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move” brochure provided to you by your mover. It is required to be provided to you for interstate moves and it is a valuable resource to explain your rights and responsibilities regarding the entire moving process. Now is NOT the time to cut corners. You should read the brochure thoroughly.
Red Flag Warning Signs of scam movers
It’s a good practice to get at least three estimates from different movers. It’s amazing what you can learn about the companies in that process, as well as their pricing.
If you get a low-ball estimate from one of them that is quite a bit lower than the others, that is a “red flag” that something is fishy with that mover. This is especially true if they never physically view the goods that are being moved, which is needed in order to give a legitimate estimate. Good reputable companies need to make a profit and are incurring significant costs to pack and transport your belongings. An estimate that is too good to be true is often a scam. It is best to steer clear of those situations.
Another red flag is if the mover does not provide a written estimate, or says they will determine the cost after loading. That is too late! Once they have your stuff you are in trouble.
Other Red Flags
If a mover demands cash or a large deposit up front, that is another red flag. You are typically not obligated to pay anything significant until they arrive at the delivery location (except maybe a small down payment). This makes sense because, if you think about it, your belongings are the collateral. Because of this, there is no reason for you to pay anything significant up front until the delivery is complete.
A legit interstate mover will also provide you with a hard copy or link to the two documents they are required to provide you by federal law. One is “Your Rights and Responsibilities When you Move” as mentioned previously and the other is the “Ready to Move brochure.” If they don’t provide these they are in violation of the interstate moving laws. Steer clear of those movers.
Other Red flags include:
- The company answers the phone generically as “movers” instead of the company name.
- There is no local address listed on their website
- The mover claims all the goods are covered under their insurance
- The mover shows up to your house with a rental truck rather than a truck containing the Company signage
You can check out the full list by going to the “Red Flags” Website page.
Hostage Load Situations
Yes, even your personal belonging can be held ransom. This complaint accounts for about 7% of all complaints made to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
This is just like it sounds. The mover basically holds your household possessions hostage and refuses to give them to you unless you pay them more money.
The reasons for the additional fees could be just made up reasons on why the costs went up. In other cases they may have had some issues that drove up the cost but the amounts are much higher than what would be considered reasonable. Regardless, your goods are being held hostage for money.
Scams are so prevalent that the FMCSA announced a crackdown in April, 2023 to help address the issues and complaints. The enforcement sweep included sending dozens of investigators into the field to address the significant uptick in scams at the start of the busy summer moving season.
Filing a Complaint
If you feel you have been scammed or taken advantage of on an interstate move, you can contact the FMCSA’s nationwide complaint hotline at 1-888-368-7238. You can also go to this Web Page and file consumer complaints online.
In order to submit a Household Goods hostage complaint you need to provide a copy of the written estimate, the Bill of Lading (BOL), a receipt of completed or offered payment, documentation of the moving company’s refusal to deliver goods, and the amount requested from the moving company to deliver the goods.
If you have a complaint and your move was intrastate, rather than interstate, your next step would be to contact your state or local law enforcement authorities.
Executive Summary: Using ProtectYourMove.gov to avoid moving scams
- ProtectYourMove.gov is a US federal government website dedicated to helping people find reputable movers and avoid being victim to a moving scam
- The Website is maintained by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)
- Their website is a valuable tool that contains brochures, checklists and registration search tools to help ensure that you avoid scams and have a smooth moving process
- There are other tools you can use as well to help in you find a reputable mover that include your State Movers Association and the Better Business Bureau
- There are a number of required steps a mover must follow to be in compliance with Federal Law. Note that these laws apply to moves that cross state lines. Intrastate moves would fall under state law. However, many of these steps are good practices to follow for any move.
- If you have an interstate moving complaint you can call the FMCSA or fill out the online forms. They will help guide you through the process if your claim is accepted. Intrastate claims would be with your applicable state legal authority.
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