The best protection is prevention, especially when it comes to protecting yourself from moving scams. Unfortunately, your household move can be more dangerous and more expensive than you hope. According to the US Census Bureau, in the last decade around 12% of the Americans have moved each year. The U.S. Department of Transportation has similar statistics. Which means that more than 40 million Americans change address yearly. With so many moves, there will be a lot of moving scams even if the vast majority of the moving companies are reliable. The fact that the market is so big makes it that much more attractive for scammers. The technological wonders such as the phone and the Internet may not help you either, if you don’t know how to use them. So how do you spot moving scams early?
Since none of these pieces of advice can actually guarantee by itself that you will not become a victim of a moving scam, you will have to do A LOT of things if you want to avoid moving frauds. In this list I will also try to cover not just how to spot “rogue” movers, but also how to find a reputable moving company. This guide is not just about spotting illegal activities but will also help you distinguish the good from the bad businesses and find the best national moving companies. If you want to know how to avoid moving scams, here is a list for you.
What to do to notice the scams early?
There is a lot you can do before you move to pick a good, reasonable mover before the move itself. If you want to spot a moving scam, the earlier, the better. Here are the things that you would want to research first:
- Every interstate moving company should be licensed by the U.S. Department of Transportation. You can search for a company’s license here. Most companies will be proud to show their license on their website or give you their USDOT number when you ask for it. This is one of the best ways to notice moving scams.
- A good way to spot moving scams is to search for companies who have a physical addresses. If a company doesn’t have one, you should be alarmed.
- If you can, visit their office and their facilities. Are they easy to find, are they maintained and well-conditioned? Most scammers are not in the business for long, so they will not put a lot of effort and money in an office that is not going to be used for a long time.
- Try to research the history of the company. If it is just 2 or 3 years old, this would not be a sign of a reliable mover.
- If you want to sport moving scams, you should defiantly check the Better Business Bureau. They are very strict and their reviews are an important source of reliable information. This is an excellent organization to help you spot moving scams.
- Ask your friends, relatives and really anyone you know to give you advice.
- You may want to check Internet forums, if you want to spot moving scams. But be careful – they are double edged – no one controls who writes what so you don’t know who is the one writing the review – may be someone from another company, for example.
- There are other things to do online in order to spot moving scams. Check out the company’s website. A reputable mover that wants to stay in business and would probably invest in a good and informative webpage. Generally, it is recommended to avoid companies that don’t invest in the office or in their webpage.
- Find as many reviews as possible on the internet and compare them. Beware if all the reviews you find are good. They may be fake. Same goes if the reviews are all bad.
- Look for references (for the company as well as for the movers).
- Look at the name of the company very well. Some scammers use names, which are very close to the names of respectful companies. Be careful, some of the bad guys often change their names and addresses as well. This is an old-school tactic, so you should have heard about it.
- Does the company in focus employ inexperienced people for the moving season (May through September, or on Holidays and so on)? Ask them who will actually be moving your house.
- In this line of thinking, meet the movers in person and exchange telephone numbers. See if the movers themselves have a reputation.
- Does your mover provide you with “Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move” brochure?
- If you use a broker, you should check them like you check the moving companies. Are they registered with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration? Do they provide you with the same brochure? Does the broker provide you with a list of the companies they use? The broker should have a physical address and they should make it clear that they are brokers and not movers.
- When you call the company, you get a standard non-personal answer like “Moving company” or “Movers” instead of the company name?
How do scammers and bad companies determine their cost?
- You have the right to demand that the mover (or the broker) come to your house to carry out the pre-move house survey of your goods. A good company WANTS to visit your home. How else can they make an accurate estimation of the moving costs? If they do an in-house survey, they should be very careful and should not do it quickly. In fact, FMCSA has very strict rules concerning the physical survey of the household goods.
- Scam companies often offer very low estimates. If the offer is too good to be true, this is a red flag that something may be wrong.
- Whether binding or fixed, the estimate should be written.
- Deposits are to be expected, especially during the Season. However, most companies charge around 10-20%.
- Any reputable moving company should accept credit cards.
- You should ask any company you speak with how much they charge for extra services.
The movers are on their way. Don’t stop looking.
Spotting moving scams does not stop here. You have done everything so far and have chosen a company, should not stop investigating the mover:
- The company should provide some information about insurance or offer you full value replacement valuation.
- If the company ever gives you a blank or incomplete document, they are trying to cheat you. NEVER sign such documents. Be aware of the fine print and just read every document thoughtfully.
- Another possible sign of a rogue mover – they ask you to sign a new written estimate.
- When they arrive check their trucks – is there no name on the moving truck or a different moving company name? This is a definite red flag that there is something wrong with this company. Of course, some companies may use subcontractors, but they should inform you about it so you can check them as well.
What to do if you failed to notice the scam?
Some ways to avoid the moving scam or to minimize the damage if you have not spotted it. Do not rely just on spotting fraud:
- Make sure not to miss an item in the inventory list. If you do and then the item gets stolen, there is no way to prove it.
- Think about the fact that you should provide evidence. Otherwise, the law cannot defend you.
- If you don’t have a written bid and only a “handshake” one, you cannot prove what the company has offered you in the beginning.
- If your goods are held hostage (you didn’t do your homework) – you can always call 911 or 1-888-DOT-SAFT (1-888-368-7238) (U.S. Department of Transportation on their hotline).
- Share what you know with others – the more people know about scams, the less profitable they would be. Reward the reputable moving companies with a review online. Report any fraud here.
You should know how to spot moving scams and how to find a reputable moving company. There are some things you can do if you failed to avoid being scammed, but no one can give back your time and no one can compensate you for your wasted nerves.