Common moving scams can be easily avoided. The key is to know what to look for so that you can avoid them! We’re here to help you do just that.
Moving scams are not uncommon. A Better Business Bureau study stated they receive an average of 13,000 complaints about movers each year! If you have an upcoming move, you’re likely already preparing for it.
Preparing for a move includes doing research, hiring reputable movers, packing, and more. If you’re still working out the finances of your move, check out our moving cost calculator to help you build your budget and navigate the moving journey. Moving across state lines and making a long-distance move? Here are our top recommendations for best interstate moving companies.
And you can rest easy knowing that with a little guidance and research, it’s possible to take bad moving companies out of the equation entirely while planning for your move.
These are the most common moving scams you need to look out for:
- Name Changes
- Fly-By-Night Online Movers
- Lack of Attention to Detail
- Bait and Switch
- Weight Discrepencies
- Estimates by Cubic Feet
- The “Guaranteed” Quote
The most common moving scams: Signs to watch for
Want to know the easiest way to avoid a common moving scam? Hire a reputable moving company. Here are the most prevalent moving scams that you can avoid.
1. Name changes
One of the easiest ways to tell if a mover has a murky past is if it has a habit of changing its name frequently. Sometimes legitimate moving companies do change their van line affiliations and names.
That’s okay, but if they’ve done it several times in as many years, it should be a huge red flag.
Other times, companies choose names that are very similar to reputable moving companies. The idea is that customers will think they’re working with the pros, when really it’s a scam company that just wants to take your money and run.
Insider’s tip: Sometimes all a company needs to do to distance itself from its shady past and consumer complaints is to change its name and repaint its trucks.
It’s a good idea to ask for a copy of their business license to avoid this common moving scam. Is it less than 6 months old? Expired? Is the name different than the one on their website? If so, ask why.
Be a critical thinker when it comes to hiring a moving company. You don’t want to have to ––in the worst-case scenario –– get law enforcement involved if you’ve been duped by a common moving scam.
2. Fly-by-night, online moving brokers
There’s a distinction to be made between movers and moving brokers.
Movers own trucks, and brokers don’t. Moving companies also need warehouses, storage facilities, and trained employees to pack and move your items with packing materials.
All brokers need is a post office box and a few phone lines and they’re in business. They often misrepresent themselves as actual moving companies to unsuspecting consumers.
Once they’ve booked a move with a new customer, they shop that move around to real moving companies — usually ones that operate at the low end of the respectability spectrum. And their criteria usually boils down to who’ll do it the cheapest, with little or no regard for meeting the customer’s expectations or needs.
However, don’t dismiss a good company just because it’s a broker. There are some good brokers in the industry. Be wary of the online brokers that seem to have no footprint of being a reputable company.
Insider’s Tip: Find out if a moving company is reputable by running a background check.
3. Lack of attention to detail
After you’ve compiled a list of possible movers, you’ll want to give them a call.
If you’ve landed on their website and can’t find a phone number, you may want to move on. Scammers often don’t provide their phone number –they just want yours.
If it’s possible to visit the moving company’s office in-person, do so to book your move in-person and see for yourself how they run their business.
Always listen to your gut.
If, over the phone, a company is throwing numbers around and unwilling to schedule an appointment, it’s a good sign that you’re getting set up for a scam.
4. Unexpected costs at the end of your move
It’s legal for movers to charge customers for some services that weren’t included in the original estimate.
Additional charges may be added for last-minute services like container storage in a storage facility and truck inaccessibility issues requiring a shuttle. That said, most moves shouldn’t end with big surprises.
Unscrupulous movers often add massive fuel surcharges, bloated insurance premiums, and jacked-up weights to the final bill in an attempt to line their pockets with unearned money.
They may also ask for an overly large deposit that’s not commensurate with the move at hand. Extra fees can also be a hallmark of moving companies that take advantage of people. And sadly, they often target vulnerable consumers like the elderly.
5. Estimated weight discrepancies
No moving scam is more prevalent than the ‘low-ball’ estimate.
It’s when companies intentionally give a potential customer an unreasonably low estimate with the express intent of increasing the cost later. It’s more common than you might think, but there are ways to protect yourself.
First, get multiple in-home estimates from companies you’ve deemed to be reputable.
Although there’s no way even for an experienced consultant to determine the actual weight of your items, they should get close.
Compare the weights on each estimate. Ideally, they should be within 10% of one another. If one is much lower than the others, it may be a set-up.
Interstate movers are required to weigh each customer’s shipment individually. And they should do it with nearly full fuel tanks.
Did you know that tractor-trailers can hold more than 400 gallons of diesel fuel? At about 6 pounds per gallon, unscrupulous drivers may show up with less than full tanks, load your items, and refuel before weighing.
If they add 200 gallons, it could add 1,200 pounds to the weight of your shipment.
Insider’s tip: Ask the driver to show you what’s inside his tanks if you’re worried about being scammed.
6. Weight versus cubic feet estimates
If you’re moving long-distance from one state to another, your estimate should be based on mileage, optional moving services requested, and the weight of your shipment.
If a moving company provides an estimate based on cubic feet instead of weight, it can mean that they’re up to no good. They may justify it by saying that it’s only fair to charge based on the amount of van space used.
Sounds reasonable, right? Wrong! Here’s why: if an experienced driver can load your items into 1,000 cubic feet of space, why should you be charged more for an inexperienced (or shady) driver who uses 1,300 cubic feet?
Insider’s tip: If your estimate is in cubic feet, be sure you’re hiring a mover you trust.
7. The “guaranteed” quote
There are two kinds of moving contracts based on federal law (FMSCA.dot.gov has more info on this topic). A non-binding estimate states that the final cost of the move may be more or less than the original estimate.
This is perfectly acceptable because customers often add items and services at the last minute that legitimately increase the moving cost.
However, if the actual cost exceeds the estimate by more than 10%, movers cannot demand payment on the spot. They’re entitled to the estimated cost at the time of delivery, but the rest is payable within 30 days.
A binding estimate is a guaranteed price, but it’s based on the exact weight, number of inventory items, and services requested on the original estimate.
However, you still may be on the hook for additional charges if you move more items than agreed upon or need the mover to provide additional services.
Insider’s tip: Before booking your move, ask for a sample contract (or a blank contract) — and read every word of it, including the fine print.
How to a hire a reputable mover
After successfully sidestepping common moving scams and bad moving companies, you should aim to hire a reputable mover, which will protect your move.
To ensure that a company is reputable, do the following:
- Check the company’s name on the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
- Be sure their U.S. Department of Transportation Number (US DOT #) matches the moving trucks.
- Check them out on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) website.
- Check their Google reviews and other moving review sites.
- Check that they have a physical, local address.
Shady brokers and bad movers are everywhere. Do your homework!
Choosing a reputable company is key. The following is also an important part of the process:
- Knowing the differences between moving companies and brokers.
- Weighing the pros and cons of each.
- Asking for personal referrals.
- Vetting companies carefully.
Don’t assume brokers will save you time
Another thing to consider is whether or not to use moving brokers. Lots of people think that using a moving broker will save them time. However, this is not always the case.
Sometimes, brokers end up costing customers more time and hassle than if they’d just gone with a traditional mover.
Some customers do have good experiences with moving brokers, but many brokers don’t do any “homework” at all. Many couldn’t care less whether or not their customers have good experiences.
Using a moving broker could conceivably save you the time associated with finding and vetting your own movers, but it’s usually not the case.
For something as important as moving your family and your belongings, it may be in your best interest to organize it yourself instead of hiring a moving broker.
Be wary of a lack of transparency
Many moving brokers don’t give their customers the option of choosing which moving company they use. This means that there’s no telling who will show up to your home or apartment on move day.
With brokers, you just have to hope that a crew shows up as planned and that they’re reputable and experienced.
Sometimes, it’s in your best interest to cut out the middleman (aka the moving broker) by asking friends, coworkers, and family members for referrals, and then choosing a top-quality mover on your own.
Beware of poor communication from brokers
Brokers are like firewalls between you and your mover. In most cases, direct communication will be nonexistent because it’s the broker’s “job” to relay this information back and forth.
This can lead to all kinds of issues, such as poor service and additional stress, and you’re never really sure if your broker is conveying information accurately and in good faith.
Dealing with your movers directly is typically easier and more efficient.
Don’t settle for inaccurate estimates
Another drawback of brokers is that most won’t perform an in-home written estimate or even conduct video estimates. In fact, their business models make it nearly impossible.
This means that you’ll likely have to settle for phone estimates which can be notoriously inaccurate. Then, if your broker isn’t on the up-and-up, you can expect the following:
- A lowball estimate.
- Significantly increased costs down the road.
- Huge headaches at your new home.
- The possibility of your household goods being held hostage until you pay up. (Holding possessions hostage is not something that most good moving brokers and good moving companies will do.)
Common moving scams like this one aren’t only perpetrated by brokers. Shady movers rely on it too.
Getting in-home or on-site estimates from reputable moving companies will almost always eliminate the risk of getting scammed.
Most damage is avoidable
There’s always the risk of damage whenever workers move furniture, boxes, and other household goods into and out of homes, apartments, and trucks. Even if the movers are moving industry veterans with proper packing materials, damage can still occur.
No matter how careful and experienced they are, minor scrapes, dings, dents, and gouges are common. Sometimes things even get lost and destroyed.
But if nearly everything is damaged or missing, there’s something more going on.
When excessive loss or damage occurs, it’s generally an indication that the movers just don’t care or that they are unprofessional. Finding an experienced mover through thorough vetting is the key to a successful move that keeps your belongings safe and intact.
Additional tips for avoiding moving company scams
While we’ve covered the most common moving scams and offered advice on how to avoid them, there are a few more ways to protect yourself. Here are some tips on how to avoid scam movers.
1. Make sure movers and brokers are properly licensed
One of the best ways to do this is by checking whether they have a valid U.S. Department of Transportation number (USDOT number). Fear not. It’s quick, free, and easy. You can learn how to look up a USDOT number in our handy guide.
2. Take pictures of your valuables before they’re moved
Photographing your furniture and valuables is a great way to substantiate claims if things get damaged during your move. Just remember, it’s all for naught if you haven’t chosen a reputable moving company. Hiring a moving company with a good reputation is critical to ensuring a good move.
Related: The Best Moving Container Companies
3. Get everything in writing
Moving estimates should clearly itemize charges for transportation, packing, and unpacking, and valuation, as well as pick-up and delivery dates. Never sign an estimate or an order-for-service that’s blank, and make sure you understand everything completely.
4. Understand your valuation options
Valuation (also known as moving insurance) dictates how the mover will reimburse you if they damage or lose your items. Check out our moving insurance guide to learn more about your valuation options and which one makes the most sense for you.
5. Know your rights and responsibilities
Becoming an informed consumer is up to you. If you’re moving from one state to another, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
Bad moving experiences can be avoided
When people are desperate and in a time-crunch for their move, they may more easily fall victim to common moving scams. This is because they head straight to Google to look for help for their move, where scammers and shady brokers are patiently waiting.
And that’s when we hear about colorful post-move reviews and consumer complaints like this one…
During peak moving times, including summer, there’s typically a higher demand for moving support, which can lead to getting more easily scammed.
Customer experiences like these give the industry a black eye and make people less likely to ever consider using a professional mover again. With careful research, experiences like this one may have been able to be avoided.
After a simple licensure check, the terrible moving experience reported above may have been side-stepped. If the customer had known how to check licensure info, it’s unlikely they would have booked this company. Because, at the time, the company was barely a year old and thus, didn’t have much moving experience. (We put together a step-by-step guide to help people qualify moving companies.)
Avoid common moving scams and hire reputable movers with moveBuddha
Moving scams are still alive and well despite continued efforts to police them.
It’s important to do your research before a move, and work with a reputable moving company. Get quotes from three to four movers as this seems to be the magic number where customers feel satisfied with their price hunting.
Regardless of how you execute your move, be sure to do your research and vet companies properly, so you can avoid moving scams and bad movers, and enjoy an easy, hassle-free, successful move to your new home!
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