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Allowing someone you don’t know to drive away with your belongings is among the many stressful aspects of a long-distance move — especially if that move is complicated or maybe prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, some consumers find their stress compounded by fraudulent movers who charge them many times the amount quoted, subject them to unreasonably long delivery windows, hold their items hostage for additional undisclosed fees and leave them with damaged goods. 

An investigative study by Better Business Bureau found 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. 

The investigative study — “Know Your Mover: BBB Study Reveals Scammers Price Gouge, Taking Belongings Hostage and Destroy Goods” — highlights the risk to consumers who do not do careful research before hiring a mover.

According to the study, a fraudulent moving company initially may be helpful on the phone and may have a well-designed website boasting of 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; while it 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 bad actor may demand additional fees before 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.

The U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a branch of the U.S. Department of Transportation, regulates interstate and international moves. Of the complaints FMCSA receives, the last study showed that 57% involved overcharging. It is believed that fewer than 10% of victims report fraud to BBB or enforcement agencies, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), so the actual size and severity of this problem is likely much larger and more severe than statistics reflect. 

One man relocating his family for a better job opportunity found himself ensnared in one common variation of a moving scam. He obtained a quote of $5,000 from a moving company that had good online reviews, but a week later, a man claiming to be an “expert estimator” for the company called him with a revised estimate of nearly $10,000. On moving day, when most of his family’s belongings had already been loaded, the man was given a final price of more than $20,000 — and movers demanded an additional $1000 in cash when they arrived with his family’s items nearly a month later. While the man’s employer had agreed to reimburse his move, he was required to repay them the additional $10,000 he had been charged over the revised estimate.

Enforcement action against moving scams can be difficult. While FMCSA does not have law enforcement power, it is able to send demand letters to bad actors, levy fines and revoke operating authority, and it partners with some state agencies to take legal action. The U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General prioritizes moving fraud and, along with FMCSA, has supported state and federal law enforcement agencies in prosecuting moving fraud and related offenses. Many moving scams involve Israeli nationals operating from Florida, where the state attorney general has been active in bringing lawsuits against such enterprises. 

The best way to avoid such a scam is to do careful research before hiring a moving company. Specifically, BBB advises looking up a mover’s license number on FMCSA’s website and its BBB Business Profile at bbb.org.

If you find yourself the victim of a moving scam:

ïFile a report with local police.

ïContact MoveRescue at moverescue.com or (800) 832-1773. 

ïGo to BBB.org to file a complaint or report a scam on Scam Tracker.

ïFile an online complaint with the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration or call 1-888-DOT-SAFT (1-888-368-7238). While the regulator typically does not represent individual victims, it does track complaints and will request the mover’s license number.

ïFile a claim with the insurer listed in your moving contract.

To review the full BBB Study, visit www.BBB.org/scamstudies.  

 

 Kelvin Collins is president & CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving the Fall Line Corridor, serving 77 counties in East Alabama, West Georgia, Southwest Georgia, Central Georgia, East Georgia and Western South Carolina. This tips column is provided through the local BBB and the International Association of Better Business Bureaus (IABBB). The Better Business Bureau sets standards for ethical business behavior, monitors compliance and helps consumers identify trustworthy businesses. Questions or complaints about a specific company or charity should be referred directly to the BBB at Phone: 1-800-763-4222, website: BBB.org or email: info@centralgeorgia.bbb.org.

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