Beware of Fraudulent Moving Scams

If you're moving, you have a lot of things to think about. Along with ensuring that your new home or apartment is ready, you also need to verify that your mail is forwarded, your new utilities are set up and your belongings end up at your new place safe and sound.

With so much on their plate, people may find themselves being taken advantage of and falling victim to moving scams. Unscrupulous individuals have devised a wide variety of schemes, and according to the director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, moving scams have become an increasing problem. Per the Better Business Bureau, complaints about movers have doubled since 1995 when the moving industry was deregulated.

Moving scams often result in people either paying much more than they should have or not having the appropriate protections in place for their belongings. While only 1 percent of all moves involve a scam, they can end up costing people thousands of dollars and a lot of time and aggravation.

Types of Moving Scams

Movers have thought up multiple ways to make more money. Some scams to familiarize yourself with before your move are listed below:

Phone-based Estimates

How much it costs to move your household from one location to another will depend on a number of factors, one of which is the type, size and weight of items in your home. For an accurate estimate of moving costs, you'll need to have someone see what is to be moved. It's difficult, if not impossible, to get an idea of what the contents of a home weigh without seeing them, so sight-unseen estimates are questionable at best and should raise alarms.

A variation on this scam is when a moving company will estimate a weight that is much lower than the total weight of the items in your household is expected to be. Then, when they load the truck, the movers will say that the total weight is much heavier. The good news is that federal law allows you to be present at a reweigh, but your moving price may still increase dramatically if the estimate assumed a much lower overall weight.

Excessive Deposit Requirements

You may be required to put down a deposit when you work with a moving company, but the deposit is not required to be in cash, and amounts are almost never large. If a company is demanding a large cash deposit, you should find another moving company to work with.

Many Extra Fees

When a mover has to deal with additional challenges, such as a second-story apartment or having to use more than one smaller truck because larger trucks aren't allowed down the street you live on, you can expect to be charged extra. These fees are normal, but some less reputable companies find a way to charge additional fees for everything, and they often tack them on after the move has been completed. Be sure that you get a list of all potential additional charges you may be expected to pay.

Moving companies that use this scam may refuse to give your belongings back until you pay them. These situations can be exceptionally difficult to deal with because police are usually reluctant to get involved when contracts stipulate that you have to pay the movers. According to some experts, the only real way of dealing with this is to pay up and hope to get your money back through the court system.

Blank or Incomplete Contracts

Some moving companies may say that they will finish filling out details later and ask you to sign to lock in a price. The problem with this is that nothing prevents a company from going back and adding in details that you never agreed to. Always be sure to read a contract and verify that it is complete before signing it.

How to Avoid Moving Scams

Aside from being able to recognize a scam when you see one, there are other steps you can take to make sure your movers are being honest with you. Some ways to avoid scams include:

Know Your Rights

One of the best ways to avoid being taken advantage of is to know how the process of arranging a move works and what your rights are. You don't have to become an expert on interstate laws, but you should be aware of the types of contracts that are available and have a basic understanding of the types of protections offered by moving companies. Further, you should be sure that you know what the process is for filing a damage claim with a company and what will and won't be covered.

Get Several Estimates

As the saying goes, if it sounds like it's too good to be true, it probably is. Some scam artists will provide incredibly low estimates and then turn around and tack enormous additional fees on once they have your belongings in their possession. According to experts, you should get three estimates and dismiss the lowest if it is drastically lower than the others. Along with helping to determine if an organization is trying to take advantage of you, several estimates can give you a ballpark figure of how much you can expect to pay for your move.

Understand How Estimates Work

There are two types of estimates that you may receive from a moving company: a binding estimate and a non-binding estimate. With a binding estimate, you are obligated to pay the fee within 30 days of the move, and it includes all costs related to the move, including extra fees and services. With a non-binding estimate, you are also obligated to pay within 30 days, and the mover cannot charge more than an additional 10 percent over the estimated cost.

However, it's important to note that most estimates and contracts carry the caveat that the price may still be adjusted if the weight of your belongings exceeds what is on the estimate. In other words, your contract is only ironclad if you can be sure that the weight named on the estimate is fairly close to the actual weight of your belongings.[6] This is another reason why having someone do a physical inspection of your household goods is important.

Ask for Things in Writing

Should you end up having problems with your moving company, documentation is essential. If your belongings arrive after the date promised, if you discover that your possessions have been damaged or if you believe you are being overcharged, having proof in writing of what was agreed to is essential for settling disputes equitably.

Avoid Business With Cash-only Companies

If you want to pay your moving service in cash, there's no problem with that. However, there's no good reason for a moving company to not accept other methods of payment. Cash leaves essentially no trail, and there's no way to get third-party refunds or charge reversals the way you can with a credit or debit card.

Check with the BBB or Government Organizations When in Doubt

If you're wary of the way that a company is behaving or you are hoping to take advantage of a cheap moving deal, you can check with the local Better Business Bureau and see if the company is in good standing. Companies that are members of the BBB may lose their ranking if too many complaints are filed about them, so well-rated businesses tend to be trustworthy.

Verify All Items are Undamaged as Quickly as Possible

Some less-than-scrupulous movers may bank on the fact that you're not likely to go through all your belongings and ensure that they arrived and are in good condition. Boxes, in particular, are often left unopened for days, weeks or even months after a move. Be sure to have a checklist of what each box contains and verify that the contents have not been damaged during the move.

Visit the Mover's Physical Location

One easy way to check if a moving company is legitimate is to visit their location and make sure that they actually operate out of the address they say they work from. Many scam artists use fake addresses or forwarding addresses. If a moving company is legitimate, they'll have a central location or office that they work from.

Check Reviews

Thanks to the Internet, it is much easier than it was in the past to verify that a company will do a good job of providing the service that they offer. Even if a moving company is not breaking laws, they may offer less than stellar customer service or confuse the process so that you end up owing them more money than you expected. It is not uncommon for even the best companies to have a few negative reviews, but if you see several people complaining about the same issue, you probably want to steer clear of a company.