Moving is always stressful, but it quickly turns into a nightmare if you hire the wrong company.

Some moves are Interstate, which means they involve a move from one state to another. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) sets the standards for interstate moves.

Other moves are Intra-state or within Arizona. Those moves are not subject to federal regulation.

No matter what type of move you’re making, failing to do your homework can be costly. You may find that a rogue moving company is refusing to deliver your household goods until you pay them thousands of dollars in additional charges that you may not really owe.

Most movers are reliable, especially companies that are members of the American Moving and Storage Association.But moving can be expensive, so many people search the Internet or local newspapers in an effort to save money, and may fall prey to unscrupulous moving companies.

Scam artists typically give an unrealistically low estimate to reel in bargain hunters. Their estimate is often based on an internet questionnaire instead of an on-site inspection. Many are brokers who pass on the moving job and may not be licensed movers.

An unwary consumer makes a down payment on this unrealistic estimate. A crew shows up with a van and picks up the items to be moved. Then the moving company calls and says the actual weight or volume was higher than estimated. Unless the consumer agrees to pay several thousand dollars more, they will not deliver the furniture. The driver demands payment in cash or with a money order. No checks or credit cards. They may also try to add on additional fees.

These are examples of the tactics used by “rogue movers” who may be violating the law. The FMCSA receives more than 4,000 complaints of moving scams each year. New federal rules require all estimates to be based on a visual inspection, but it includes exceptions. Do not accept an estimate that is not based on an on-site inspection.

Remember: It’s not just your sofa and a few boxes of items. You are transporting family heirlooms, important mementos, and a big part of your entire life.

Seek help

For example, if you’re moving to Arizona from another state, and you have a dispute with a mover, you can call the Department at (602)-771 4920, or 1-800-277-6675.
A.R.S. 41-2066 states that the Director of Weights and Measures, or one of his Investigators, may “stop any commercial vehicle upon reasonable cause to believe that the vehicle contains a violation….”

An investigator can require that a moving van to be weighed before and after delivery of household goods to determine the actual weight, or an inspection can be conducted to determine the volume of the goods being delivered, to resolve any disputes.

IMPORTANT: There are different rules that apply when you are moving from one state to another, or if you are moving within the state. If you are moving to another state, you might want to contact the FMCSA.

INTERSTATE moves, when they are performed by licensed movers, are typically based on the weight of all the items being moved, but under some circumstances may be based on volume.

If the charges are based on weight, the truck is placed on a commercial scale before your household goods are loaded, and again after it’s been loaded with your furniture. The cost is based on a price per pound, plus additional fees, for such things as packing, additional services or other items.

Remember that many factors may cause the weight of a vehicle to vary. A truck with fully loaded fuel tanks will weigh considerably more than a truck with empty tanks. If your goods are moved to a different trailer, or if a trailer is hooked up to a different tractor-trailer, the total weight will vary.

If the weight is based on volume, the number of square feet that your property takes up will determine the charges. Remember that many different factors can affect this charge. An unscrupulous mover will load empty boxes, place small items in large containers, or add on exceptionally high charges for packing material.

FMCSA rules spell out a number of rights for consumers who are making an Interstate move. The agency has a publication, Your “Rights and Responsibilities When You Move”, which must be provided by any company that offers to move you to another state.

The federal agency also requires these companies to let you inspect their “Tariff,” which spells out all provisions of their fees. Be wary of any company that refuses to give you a copy of their tariff.

Under federal rules, interstate moving companies can give you two different types of estimates, binding or non-binding.

A binding estimate specifies the precise cost of the move in advance, based on the weight of the items to be moved and any additional services requested. A non-binding estimate allows a moving company to demand payment for additional charges but they can require only 10 percent more than the original estimate when they complete delivery.

If the charges on a non-binding estimate exceed these limits, the company will bill a customer for any additional charges within 30 days of completing the move.

There is one exception to the rule on non-binding charges. A company can specify in its Tariff that it can collect 15 percent more than a non-binding estimate in cases where “impracticable operations,” such as a shuttle, is needed to complete a move. Once again, if they are due more than that amount, they must send you a bill within 30 days of completing the move.

None of these scenarios allow a moving company to refuse delivery until they are given full payment in cash, or to hold your property hostage. The FCSMA document spells out your rights regarding payment. Be wary of any company that demands full payment in cash.

If Weights and Measures gets involved in a dispute, our investigators will require consumers to make the appropriate payment, based on the appropriate charge based on weight or volume. The movi.ng company will be instructed that they must complete the delivery.

If you want the Department of Weights and Measures to intervene on an interstate move, see the Help section below.

BEFORE HIRING AN INTERSTATE MOVING COMPANY:

DO

  • Investigate the moving company before signing a contract.
  • Make sure you understand the methods used to determine all costs. Ask to see a copy of the company’s Tariffs. Remember that each company’s Tariffs may be different.
  • New federal rules state that a mover must offer you the option of purchasing Full Value Coverage, which usually stipulates a payment for damage that is based on a dollar amount per pound. A carrier must offer full-value coverage for movers at a certain cost. If you decline to pay for that coverage, they must have you sign a written waiver declining Full Value Coverage.
  • Unless you purchase Full Value Coverage, be aware that most company insurance policies base reimbursement on the weight of your goods. If a box of expensive crystals or antique china is broken in a move, you will be offered a reimbursement based on how many pounds those items weighed, not on their value.
  • Tell the moving company that you want to base your charges on weight instead of cubic volume. While most movers are reputable, there are many ways that an unscrupulous mover can use volume to inflate the cost.
  • Many consumers find it’s best to work directly with a moving company.
  • Remember that FMCSA rules state that a consumer has a right to know if a company is a broker that will turn the actual move over to a different company. When you are soliciting quotes, ask if the company is a moving company or a broker. If a company is a broker, be careful.
  • Make sure the moving company doesn’t charge you for the truck weight. Have the company weigh the truck without your merchandise on it, and then ask to see a weight ticket for the truck after it is unloaded.
  • Have someone present when your goods are picked up, and have someone present when your household goods are delivered.
  • Read all the documents you are given. A moving company must supply you with a copy of your rights, a receipt or bill of lading that specifies the weight or volume of your goods, the origin and destination points, and the number of boxes being transported.
  • Be present when the weight of your household goods is established. There are many ways for a moving company to increase the “Tare” (empty) weight of a moving van. For example, the weight of a truck can vary by as much as 1,000 pounds based on whether the fuel tanks are full or empty.

DO NOT

  • Don’t sign blank documents.
  • Don’t hire a mover who requires a down payment. Most reputable movers do not demand such a payment in advance.
  • Don’t make final payment until all contractual obligations are met and you’re satisfied that you have been charged for the correct weight and service. Be careful when you are asked to sign documents once your property has been delivered.
  • If a moving company is attempting to withhold delivery, call the Arizona Department of Weights and Measures at 602-771-4920, or 800-277-6675.
  • Don’t use a mover to transport confidential information, such as credit card statements, bank statements, blank checks, canceled checks, or other valuables, such as cash, or jewelry. Transport these items yourself.
  • Don’t wait until your move has concluded to file a complaint.

INTRASTATE (In-state or local) MOVING

Charges for Intra-state (in-state) moves may differ from the methods used by an Interstate (state-to-state) move.

Some in-state moving companies employ pricing methods based on:

  • An hourly labor rate. This could include a minimum charge of two or three hours. It may include a “one-time trip charge” for the cost of sending a moving company crew to the pick-up location and then back to the moving company from the drop-off location. Additional charges may be added for moving large items (pianos, etc.).
  • A flat rate, which will reflect the items to be moved and any special conditions encountered at the pick-up or drop-off point. These special conditions may include the pick-up and drop-off addresses, stairs, and any unusual distances that items have to be carried between the moving van and the loading and unload sites. The moving company may bill you on the day of your move for additional items that were not covered in the original quote or confirmation.

The Department of Weights and Measures cannot intervene if the charges are based on an hourly rate. However, if the charges are based on weight or volume, the Department can help to resolve a dispute if you call the department before your household goods are delivered.

If you have a dispute with an in-state move that was based on an hourly rate, you can call the Consumer Affairs Division of the Arizona Attorney General Office. You can also contact the American Moving and Storage Association, moving reviews websites such as MyMovingReviews or consumer-based groups online.

If you want the Department to intervene on a move to an Arizona address, see the Help section below to find out how to file a complaint.

BEFORE HIRING AN INTRASTATE (local) MOVING COMPANY

DO

  • Ask if a company is a broker that will turn the actual move over to a different company. If a company is a broker, be careful.
  • Make sure you understand all methods used to determine costs.
  • Ask for a written confirmation that outlines all charges. If the move is based on an hourly rate, ask the moving company to put the hourly rate, trip charges and any other fees in writing.
  • Ask about the company’s insurance and repair/replacement policy on items that are damaged by the movers. Some policies pay as little as 60 cents per pound for any damaged items, without regard to their actual value.
  • Find out in advance about the company’s policy on payment. Be wary of companies that demand payment in cash only.
  • Have someone present at your pick-up. Be aware of any additional stops. Make sure someone is on site when the movers deliver your household goods.
  • Ask for an exact price in writing. If you request that any additional items be moved, or if the movers say that conditions differ from your quote or confirmation, make sure you get a written statement detailing all those charges.
  • Read all the documents you are given. A moving company should supply you with a copy of your rights, a receipt or bill of lading that specifies the weight or volume of your goods, the origin and destination points, and the number of boxes being transported.
  • Go over your items as they are delivered. Make sure you document any missing boxes or items. Note any damage.

DON’T

  • Don’t hire a company that requires payment in cash.
  • Don’t hire a company that isn’t registered with the Arizona Corporation Commission to conduct business in this state.
  • Don’t hire any anyone who refuses to put a quote and/or confirmation in writing.
  • Don’t let a company move anything until you have a written copy of any additional charges.

Be Prepared. Have copies of all your documents and correspondence ready. You will be asked for copies of your receipts, bill of lading, company Tariff and any other documents you received. You will also be asked to show proof of any payments you have already made.

File complaints with other state or federal agencies, including agencies in your state, if you are involved in a state-to-state move. This will help target unscrupulous movers who operate in more than one jurisdiction. Often other agencies or the local law enforcement organization may be called in as well.

The Department may inspect the driver’s logbooks and other paperwork. If the move was based on weight, the investigator will order the driver to bring his vehicle to a weigh station when it is loaded and again after it has been unloaded to determine the weight of the items being delivered. The Department will enforce all applicable contracts. Consumers must be prepared to pay all charges, which may exceed the original estimate by up to 10 percent on a non-binding estimate. The moving company will be compelled to complete the delivery.

Investigate the moving company before you sign an agreement with them. Check their Better Business Bureau rating are read their reviews online. Check with the Arizona Corporation Commission to make sure the company is registered to conduct business. Don’t sign a contract requiring payment in cash! Many companies demand cash payments, so establish these terms when you are getting estimates. It’s best to use a credit card company that will reimburse you if a fraudulent transaction occurs.