Moving Company Scams: How to Detect & Prevent Disaster
So, you're moving and now you have to decide how you are going to move. One of the biggest decisions to make when moving is choosing a reputable moving company and avoiding any moving company scams. The last thing you want to worry about when you move is whether the moving company you hired will actually deliver on its promises and its quoted price.
Though moving company scams exist, if you know what to look for, preventing a moving scam is fairly easy.
What Is a Moving Company Scam?
A moving company scam refers to a fraudulent and unlawful transaction between a moving company and the mover. According to the Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker, in the last two years there have been 129 reported moving scams ranging in dollars lost up to $10,000 per individual scam. “The statistics show that over 99% of all interstate moves end safety and successful,” says Michael Keaton, the American Moving & Storage Association’s Senior Communications Director, “but any time that a consumer has that type of [negative] experience, it’s one time too many.”
There are an infinite number of different ways a rogue moving company can scam a mover. They can range from heightened quotes post-move to total loss or damage during the move. Some common moving company scams include:
The hostage load: This is when a moving company will load all of your goods onto their trucks and refuse to unload or move the items until you have paid them an extra sum of money, more than was previously quoted, essentially holding your goods hostage.
The no-show: This refers to a scam when a rogue moving company requires an up-front deposit, usually in cash, and never shows up come moving day. In the end, making you pay for a service they’ll never provide.
The escape artist: This is when a rogue moving company loads your goods, starts their trucks, drives away, and are never heard from again. This is potentially the most damaging and frightening to think about because you virtually lose all of your property at once, with little to no way to get it back.
Don’t fret, we are here to arm you with any knowledge you may need to prevent you from falling prey to a rogue moving company.
Moving Company Scam Red Flags
Once you decide to go forward with hiring a professional moving company, it’s important to make sure the company you hire is reputable and will provide you with a quality moving experience. Below, we’ve laid out the top red flags to look for when you are choosing a moving company, to avoid any moving company scams:
They don't have a federal motor carrier number or a U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) number
All moving companies are required by law to have a federal motor carrier number or a USDOT number. If a moving company doesn't have one, or refuses to share it with you, they may not be a legal moving company or are not even a moving company at all.
They won't answer your questions
Reputable moving companies want you to be as informed as possible so they don't run into any unexpected issues and so you can have a great experience with them. If a moving company refuses to answer basic questions, such as asking to know about their claims filing process, there is a problem! A professional moving company wants to make sure you know the process to file a claim so that everything runs smoothly in case of any issues. A rogue moving company, however, would want to hold back that information, making it impossible for you to file a claim with them, thus not holding themselves responsible any damage or loss of goods.
They won't do an in-home estimate
If a moving company refuses to do an in-home estimate, immediately put the brakes on moving forward with them. Often, the best way to get an accurate quote from a moving company is via an in-home estimate. If you request one, and they won’t fulfill this request. Move on. At the very least, a moving company should require you to submit a thorough inventory of your home. If a moving company doesn't require any of these things, more often than not, they are relying on the fact that you will underestimate your needs, thus giving them an excuse to jack up the price with undocumented charges come moving day.
They don't have their own trucks
Any reputable moving company will have their own fleet of trucks. Many fraudulent companies will either use unmarked trucks or U-Haul trucks, instead of investing in their own fleet. This is a big warning sign. Once your belongings go into an unmarked truck, it’s significantly harder for your belongings to be tracked.
How to Prevent a Moving Company Scam
Now that you know what to look for, let’s dive into how to prevent falling victim to a moving scam. We highly recommend doing all your research before agreeing to anything with any moving company. First, you want to search the company’s federal motor carrier or USDOT number on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)’s website. This is the bottom line to make sure the company you are looking into is a registered mover.
If you’re looking for a tool to help you find and reserve a moving company, we recommend Updater’s Find a Moving Company tool. This tool will provide you with reputable and pre-vetted, moving companies. The tool not only shows you the moving companies in your area, but it also saves you time and effort by only presenting you with the best moving companies in the business.
I’ve already been scammed! What’s next?
As much as you may feel helpless about the situation, you do have some options.
The first thing you should do is contact local law enforcement. When a rogue moving company participates in any kind of theft or fraud, they are committing a crime. Whether they stole goods or money from you, they participated in illegal activity and can be prosecuted, but you need to report the crime to local police for that to happen. Whether or not the police can get involved at that moment depends on the specifics, such as if you have a ‘bill of lading’ with your moving company, which would make it a civil matter. However, if the rogue moving company is participating in a hostage load, where they are stealing your goods, the local police can then arrest them in the act for theft. Regardless, having a real-time record of the scam can help you in the long run, especially if you end up pursuing a lawsuit.
The next step is to register the scam on both the BBB and FMSCA's websites. Both sites have built in centers for reporting any scam or moving fraud. It’s important to spread the word and help other individuals avoid the hassle you’ve experienced.
One of the most impactful places you can report your scam is to local media. Though they won’t be able to provide any legal action, they can help expose the issue further and bring attention to your circumstance. The media can be a huge influence in enacting quicker action, as well as being an investigative force in your scam. Either way, they can help the situation along and help you resolve your problem faster.
And lastly, learn for next time. Hiring the cheapest company may seem like a sweet deal, but it may end up costing you everything. If you do your research and know the red flags, you won’t fall for another moving company scam. In the end, don’t be afraid to ask your moving company questions. You won’t regret being overly cautious, the moving company you choose will have everything that you own in their possession, you want to have the utmost confidence in them.