Allowing someone you don’t know to drive away with your belongings is among the many stressful aspects of a long-distance move. The stress can be compounded by fraudulent movers who charge significantly more than the amount quoted, have unreasonably long delivery windows, hold items hostage for additional undisclosed fees, and deliver damaged goods.
A new in-depth investigative study by Better Business Bureau finds that scams are widespread in the moving industry, particularly when it comes to interstate moves. BBB receives an average of 13,000 complaints and negative reviews about movers each year, with many complaints describing how experiences with dishonest moving companies have turned into financial and emotional nightmares.
According to our study, a fraudulent moving company initially may be helpful on the phone and may have a well-designed website boasting its many years of experience, well-trained workers, satisfied customers and appropriate licensing. However, the red flags begin when the company claims to be unable to make an in-person inspection and estimate. And while the company may claim to be local, in reality, it is based out of state and paying for a local post office box address. An initial low-ball quote soon balloons as the company claims — often based on improper calculations — you have more belongings than originally estimated.
The company may demand additional fees after loading and unloading the truck, and it may not deliver your goods until days or even weeks after you move in. In fact, the company you originally paid may not even be the company conducting your move — it may have hired local temporary workers who rented a truck, or it may have acted as a broker with another company.
Because most consumers only hire professional movers a few times in their lives, they are often unsure of just what to look for in a reputable company. This lack of knowledge costs consumers big time as victims of moving scams report shady companies holding their belongings hostage until they pay a hefty ransom.
BBB heard reports about these unethical companies from many victims across the United States. One victim, a Wisconsin woman, reported her items arriving from a moving company more than two months late. Several items were broken and the woman told the movers there were items they hefted into her house that did not belong to her. The victim also told us she was charged nearly $1,200 more than the company’s original quote, despite the company’s tardy delivery and mishandling of home items.
Another victim whom we’ll call Jeremiah reported to BBB that he got a bid from a well-rated company called All Pro Moving Group. Jeremiah was given an initial quote of $5,000 from the company. A week later, someone claiming to be an expert adjuster from All Pro Moving Group revised the original quote and instead told Jeremiah he would have to pay $10,000.
Jeremiah proceeded with the transaction, as he was moving for work and his new employer said they would cover some of his moving costs. What happened when moving day finally arrived was yet another blow for Jeremiah and his family. Trucks arrived at Jeremiah’s house, but they had a different moving company name emblazoned on the side.
When one truck had already driven off and almost all of the remaining items were loaded into another, the man in charge of loading told Jeremiah the final cost would be $20,437.
He was trapped. With his belongings out of sight, Jeremiah feared that if he didn’t pay up, the movers might not deliver his possessions.
After arriving in their new home city, Jeremiah and his family waited a month for their belongings to be delivered. The agreement he signed only gave the company a 21-day window to deliver.
When the movers finally did show up, they demanded another $100 in cash because they said the front door was too far from the curb. Jeremiah tried to protest, but because the movers refused to unload without the extra cash, Jeremiah forked it over. Several of his family’s items were broken, including a television.
While Jeremiah’s employer paid $10,000 toward the move, they required he make up the other $10,000 they paid to the movers over the initial quote.
These victims’ stories are sadly not unique. BBB is inundated each year with reports from individuals and families who were swindled by dishonest movers.
The general public is at serious risk of encountering a dishonest moving operation, especially if they limit their research to a quick internet search. The situation has gotten so serious that major moving companies have established a help center for victims called MoveRescue, which provides free help to people who are having problems with a rogue mover. MoveRescue was started by Mayflower and United Van Lines.
As summer ushers in the busiest moving season and college students plan a return to campus, BBB is urging caution when hiring a moving company.
Here’s what you should look for when hiring a mover:
- A company with a physical address, not just a post office box.
- Ask for in-person quotes or leverage video conferencing technology to walk an estimator through your items.
- Vehicles with their company’s logo
- Only a small deposit required upfront
- Accepts credit cards
- Realistic estimates
- Charges based on weight not volume
- Real client reviews
- Check BBB.org or US Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to find out more about the company
Be wary of these unethical and illegal business practices by moving companies
- Holding property hostage until the consumer pays more, it is illegal to charge more than 110 percent of the estimate before delivery.
- It is illegal to increase the price after goods are loaded.
- Not offering full value replacement liability protection, the standard released value liability protection pays 60 cents per pound, not on the dollar value of an item
- Lie about delivery dates, location, and quality of the workers.
To read BBB’s full report, visit bbb.org/moverscams. For more resources, or if your items are being held hostage by a mover, visit moverescue.com.
Sheron Patrick is the Communications Manager for the Better Business Bureau of Northwest and Pacific serving Alaska. He lives in Anchorage, where he and his team write articles and alerts on tips to help keep Alaskan consumers safe.