Learn to Recognize Moving Scams so You Can Avoid Them

April 12, 2021Moving Tips
Kate Holland

A true grunge and rock music fan born in Seattle, Kate has moved across the country and started writing about her experience.

Relocations are always entwined with stress and anxiety. With so much to do, organize and plan, you will probably need a helping hand in the form of a professional crew. But, moving scams are unfortunately part of the business, so you should stay alert and learn how to recognize red flags.

Every year, about 40 million people in the US relocate to another place, and that includes one-third of all the renters. It is somewhat surprising to say that most of these moves go without any negative events, and people and their goods do arrive at their designated address going only through regular relocation tension. If you are planning on relocating to another state alone, perhaps you’re considering a DIY move. And while sometimes it may be okay, these moves tend to cost even more in the end, not to mention all the hassle of the backbreaking work you have to pull off by yourself. This is where a relocation company steps in to save the day. But, if you are dreading that you might make a mistake, whether you only want to hire a cross country car shipping company or you need some other relocating service like packing, there are several steps you can take to protect yourself.

Why Is It Important to Choose the Right Professionals?

Moves are expensive, and we all consider that when we plan to relocate. We prepare a budget and decide on the services we want to use, including shipping and packing, and where it is we wish to move (sometimes based on a where should I move quiz.) Planning should entail all – from calculating how much it costs to ship a car to preparing your car for shipping, deciding what to transport with you, and many other things. When it comes to finding reputable professionals, we realize it’s not an easy task. Still, when you arm yourself with information and do your research properly, you just might have a smooth relocation experience. While having professionals handle your move and everything that involves it, it doesn’t mean you should leave everything up to them. Pay attention to every detail because it’s in your best interest to avoid scammers.

A man and a woman loading boxes
Choosing the right professionals will save you from the hassle

What Are the Most Common Moving Scams?

A DIY move is sometimes out of the question, especially if you are still learning how to drive a car. Driving a truck all the way to the new address is hard, even when the idea of driving down the famous routes in the USA seems attractive, so professionals are, in fact, your best option. When you search for information on reliable movers, there’s always a chance you end up hiring a disreputable company whose only goal is to cheat you and take advantage of you. It’s best to be cautious and well prepared, so you can notice moving company scams right away and search for other movers. These are the most common ones:

  • False reviews. In this day and age, people are accustomed to using the internet for shopping for goods and services. Many people know that it is essential to search for online reviews, especially when you want to hire movers. That’s why scammers post fake reviews on their websites, to lead a potential victim into a trap.
  • Estimates so low, it’s almost unreal. If the estimate the movers are giving you sounds shockingly low, the chances are that you will experience a moving scam. They may vanish with your deposit or hold your goods hostage until you pay much more than in the initial estimate.
  • A considerable deposit. While some professionals may ask for some down payment, it shouldn’t be too high. Scammers might offer you better conditions, but keep in mind that you shouldn’t make a deposit that is more than 20% of the estimated price.
  • Fees that can be piling up. If you are using services to transport cars from state to state, pay close attention to whether any extra service that you haven’t requested has been added to the car bill of lading or any other bill of lading you have signed. The scammers might deliberately perform unnecessary service, which you haven’t asked for, and charge you for it.
  • Holding your belongings hostage. This is probably the most widespread moving fraud. Scammers will come up with a variety of reasons why they can not deliver your household items and ask for more money to do it. You might be pressured to agree, as you want your stuff back.
  • Untrained crew and lack of equipment. Professionals must be vetted and trained into handling your stuff, and a reputable relocation enterprise should own their own trucks. This may happen if you’ve hired a crew through a broker.
  • Missing or damaged household items. Remember that valuable items should never be transported with anyone else but you. That being said, you may experience loss of items, or they could arrive damaged, but with professionals, this should be covered by insurance. Just remember to unpack everything in less than nine months so that you can file a claim.

The main concern should be to protect yourself, your money, and your stuff from scammers and avoid being a victim of a scam. Although sometimes it’s difficult to turn down a more affordable offer, in the long run, it’s better to pay a little more, but trust your possessions with reliable professionals. You can see some experiences with fraudulent companies in the following video.

A truck on the road
Trustworthy professionals should have their enterprises’ name on their trucks

How to Research and Avoid Scammers

You’re probably asking yourself – is it better to move by yourself or hire movers? What comes to mind is that it’s maybe better to avoid hiring professional relocation services altogether because all these frauds we’ve mentioned have probably made you feel anxious ahead of your move, and with the driving stress, it may be too much to handle. Especially if you have already been scammed by a car dealership or any other business, and you mistrust everyone. But there are certain tips that you can follow to help you avoid being scammed and ripped off of your money and things. But you should always keep in mind that relocating your entire home and driving to another state can be extremely difficult if you have driving anxiety. People that plan on relocating soon require different tips and advice, which include how to properly research movers, and also car shipping advice. The best protection you can have is to be well informed and know ahead of what you’re dealing with.

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Are They Licensed with the FMCSA?

A reliable, professional relocating enterprise should be licensed with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and have their USDOT number listed on their website. If you have a reason to ship a car (perhaps to avoid driving across the country) and you are considering getting an open trailer auto transport, or maybe enclosed auto transport, this is an important piece of information. The Better Business Bureau has a list of complaints, so it’s smart to research it before hiring a fraudulent and shady business.

Papers on a table
Reputable movers should have a license with FMCSA

Tips to Recognize False Estimates by Moving Companies

An estimator that doesn’t insist on an on-site estimate (or a virtual one), or if they run through your home without opening every cabinet, like they’re in a racing game, is a sign of a probable scam. While many relocation companies may offer you a quote over the phone, this should be a rough price estimate before they send in a professional to your home. An estimator that does their job properly should look at every single room that you have and ask you questions about what you plan on transporting.

Do Movers Charge by Weight or Volume of Your Home Belongings?

Some relocating companies may offer to charge you based on the cubic feet, and this is the most common scam you should look out for. When they give you an estimate, you should pay attention to the measurement system they’ve used. Reputable professionals, especially long-distance ones, will charge you based on the weight of your belongings they will transport, not based on the space the items will take up. Still, the most reliable and transparent method is when a company charges you based on your inventory list. The average weight of a household move is 6,000 pounds, or the weight of one average-sized elephant.  Additional costs may be added by mileage and if a truck can not park near the designated address. But these are all things professionals should tell you beforehand.

Truck wheel
Reliable professionals will charge by the weight of your stuff in their truck

Additional Red Flags

If a relocation enterprise is licensed and has insurance, it is required by law to stick to certain standards and regulations. But, criminals will seek to take advantage of unsuspecting clients by using all kinds of baits and tactics to take money from them. Some other things should set off a warning sign, so keep your eyes open and stay alert.

They Have Gone Through Several Name Changes

Scammers have found a way to get around complaints and bad reviews that their ex-customers write to warn other people. They set up new websites and make up a name shortly after they have scammed a couple of customers. While a legitimate relocation enterprise may have gone through a name change due to affiliation, it’s a red flag if they have done it many times in just a few years. That means they are distancing themselves from their shady past and hiding all the complaints and negative reviews, and that’s why a thorough check is desirable.

Don’t Sign a Blank Contract for Their Services

It should be counted as common sense, but we’ll mention nevertheless – never sign a blank contract, no matter how much you like the offer or the professionals you have chosen. You should get everything in writing, including the estimate and all the additional services you’ve agreed upon. Your inventory list should contain every single item that the professional contractor will transport, so don’t just glance at it, read it through thoroughly.

Signing papers
Thoroughly read before you sign anything

Terms and Conditions That Are Suspicious

Opposite to a blank contract may be a document that vaguely protects your stuff and payments and may confuse you with complicated legal slang that is hard to understand. If you are in doubt (and you should be,) consult an attorney and have them review the documents before you sign anything.

They Don’t Present You With a Brochure

Every licensed relocation enterprise is required by Federal Law to present their customers with a brochure that lists all kinds of information, titled “Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move.” It’s 25 pages long, and it informs you of fair practices, industry standards and regulations, and consumer rights. Place it among other things to keep in your car, or a relocation binder, with all the other documents.

Reading papers
You should be provided with a brochure

What to Do if You Have Been Scammed by a Moving Company?

In-state relocation companies are governed by state and local authorities, but cross-country movers are handled by a tiny section that operates under Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. They are called Household Goods and Commercial Enforcement and are greatly understaffed. They receive about 3,000 complaints each year, and around 600 of them are reports of personal items being held hostage. So, keep in mind that there’s little available help if things go sideways. The best thing you can do is to protect yourself by choosing carefully who you trust your household goods with so that the question “are you supposed to tip movers,” can remain your biggest worry. You can then relax and think thoroughly about how to pack a car for relocation, and perhaps watch some of those best TV shows about cars.

man searching for a car shipping company
Being scammed is not to be taken lightly

Who Is the Best Moving Company?

Although it may not seem so, a reliable and trustworthy relocating enterprise is not that hard to find if you know how to look and how to protect yourself. You may even say that it’s easier than learning how to change a flat tire. A good auto transport company can be of great help when it comes to relocations, as you already have a lot on your hands with organizing and planning and perhaps setting some time aside for buying a family car. It perhaps isn’t the cheapest way to ship a car, but when you hire professionals, you are guaranteed to have your vehicle, and other belongings delivered safely to their destination. When you need different services, which may include choosing between door-to-door auto transport or a more affordable terminal to terminal car shipping, either way, a reputable enterprise is an answer.

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