By Sam Wasson
Updated Oct 12, 2022
Moving is stressful. In fact, moving is one of the most stressful experiences people can go through. It can take months, is expensive, and is often fraught with pitfalls. Moving company fraud is one such pitfall, and it can turn an already stressful situation into a nightmare. There are countless moving companies operating across the U.S., and while the vast majority of them are good-natured, some are little more than scammers. These fraudulent companies are known to steal household goods or hold belongings hostage for money, along with other schemes like weight bumping and overcharging. Thankfully, you can spot these fraudulent con artists with proper preparation and due diligence before they haul away your goods.
While most companies in the moving industry are honest organizations, it doesn’t hurt to prepare yourself and take reasonable precautions. There are many telltale signs of a less-than-reputable company you can detect early on, along with several proactive measures you can take to avoid some common moving industry scams.
This guide will go over some of the most common scams in the moving industry, along with steps to avoid these scams, and finally, what to do in the case of a moving company holding your possessions hostage.
While moving company scams are uncommon, they do happen. Often, the homeowner will sign on with a local or long-distance moving company, receive one of the best free quotes of their life, and think they are saving tons of money, only to find out they are paying far more than expected. Even worse, recent studies show that Americans are moving less and less each year. This lack of relocations is bad news for professional movers, as it creates stiff competition and a ripe opportunity for moving scams. Thankfully, there are signs that the company you are working with isn’t reputable, and as long as you carefully vet your movers, you should be able to avoid having your possessions held hostage.
Like all scammers, fraudulent moving companies are a tricky lot. Some are so professional that you can’t help but believe they’re legitimate, while others you can spot a mile away. The trick to ensuring a safe and affordable move is time, patience, and thoroughness. It may be tempting to pick the first, cheapest company you find online, but by taking some time to check their reputations and shop around, you can save yourself far more trouble and money later on. Here are some of the signs of a fraudulent moving company you can use to vet your choices:
Part of being a good consumer is identifying when you’re being scammed compared to when a common problem arises. Even the best moving companies can make mistakes, and any reputable company will seek to remedy them. It is important to know when to report a moving company for fraudulent or “scammy” behavior and when to negotiate for a reasonable solution.
Here are some common industry scams:
Here are some common industry mistakes or occurrences that, while unprofessional and unfortunate, do not constitute a scam:
When fraud does occur, knowing your federally mandated rights is essential. These rights, and the rules and regulations that moving companies must adhere to, are outlined by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). There are also state-level agencies that enforce laws and regulations on moving companies at both the federal and state level. The specific state agency that handles or litigates these matters vary from state to state but typically falls to the Public Service Division, Transportation Division, Department of Transportation, or Department of Consumer Affairs. The FMCSA has a comprehensive list of each state agency that handles these matters, which can be found here.
The FMCSA is the portion of the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) that handles the enforcement, research, and implementation of laws, regulations, and operating standards for trucking, moving, and storage companies. The FMCSA ensures that transportation, moving, and storage companies follow federal and state laws regarding operations and consumer protections.
One of the most critical consumer rights that the FMCSA enforces is the “110% rule.” This rule states that a moving company can only charge you up to 110% of the initial nonbinding estimate. A nonbinding estimate, sometimes referred to as a quote, reasonably and accurately estimates the final bill. This regulation outlines the rules and procedures for creating these estimates, specifically that American moving companies must use weight, services rendered, and company tariff to determine them. The 110% rule also states that companies must deliver goods within 30 days of customers paying 100% of their final bills or up to 110%. Any moving company refusing to deliver your goods after payment of a maximum of 110% of your initial estimate violates FMCSA regulations. Also, it should be noted that companies are allowed to repossess your goods if your bill goes unpaid. Item repossessions most commonly occur with moving companies that offer long-term storage facilities.
Let’s say the worst happens, and the moving company you decide to go with is holding your goods hostage after you’ve paid your bill. What’s next? The good news is that you have plenty of options. The bad news is that none of them are particularly pleasant.
The first thing you should do is try and get in contact with the moving company as soon as possible. Contacting the company will allow you to clear up any potential misunderstandings and remove the possibility of this being a mistake. Sometimes errors occur, and you want to enable the moving company to make things right if they are legitimate. Any moving service worth its salt takes claims of lost, mishandled, and especially withheld goods seriously. When contacting moving companies during any dispute, ensure all payment requests are made in writing. When gathering information through initial communications, be sure to ask for:
If things go poorly and the company is trying to hold your items hostage and refuses to hand over any documentation, your next step is to file several complaints. First, file an official complaint with the company, then follow up with a complaint to your state agency and, if necessary, the FMCSA and law enforcement agencies. These agencies take complaints seriously, but the resulting inquiries and investigations may take time. Some rogue movers crumple under pressure the second complaints are filed, returning your goods in short order, but others will double down and put up a fight, so be prepared. You can contact the FMCSA through its phone number here.
Another method of applying pressure is utilizing every avenue for consumer advocacy available. Write a detailed review on sites like BBB, Yelp, Google Reviews, and every other location you can find.
Moving is difficult. You have to account for a lot when you relocate your entire life to a new location, and unfortunately, scammers and bad faith actors are willing to take advantage of you. In the worst-case scenario, a moving company can try to hold your stuff hostage, potentially demanding thousands of dollars from you. In these situations, you can use the advice in this guide to get your possessions returned and bring attention to the fraudulent company.
For further scam prevention, here are some best practices and vetting tips:
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