Moving is one of the most stressful events anyone will ever experience. Don’t let operators of moving scams make things worse.
The anticipation, excitement and opportunity of moving to a new city — or even across town — can easily be overwhelmed by the fear, uncertainty, effort, and expense of getting there. And that’s even without meeting up with moving scams.
But people do fall victim to scams when moving. Far too often. A remarkably robust moving scam industry active in many countries uses a surprisingly uniform arsenal of tricks to steal your money — and sometimes your belongings.
In North America alone, some 13,000 complaints about moving companies are lodged with the Better Business Bureau every year.
How to Spot Moving Scams
The first thing to determine after you’ve found a mover online and made contact is whether you’re dealing with an actual moving company (known in some parts of the world as a removalist or removals company) or a broker. Both types of businesses are known for scamming people like you. The way they go about it, however, can be a little different. Not to mention differences in their basic business models, irrespective of whether they’re scammers or not.
Brokers don’t own any trucks or employ any moving professionals. A broker is essentially a marketing and sales firm. They sell you a moving service. After you agree on a price and all the other details, they will find actual movers to fulfill the contract. How reliably and honestly they do it varies from broker to broker. They make their money, of course, by taking a cut of the action.
Perhaps the best way to ensure that your moving company isn’t going to scam you is to check that it is a member of a nationwide professional organization. In the United States that would be the American Moving & Storage Association (AMSA). Make sure that your mover is actually a member. There are scam movers that have been known to put AMSA’s logo on their website without having joined.
How Moving Scams Work
In the majority of moving scams, the first step is the lowball. That’s when they pitch you an unrealistically low estimate for what your move will cost. So low, in fact, that they have no intention from the very start of honoring it. In all likelihood they’d lose money if they did, not that it excuses them from lying to you. The lowball exists to get you to sign up as fast as possible, undercut the fierce competition and deny you the opportunity to investigate their business practices.
When the big day comes the movers show up and trouble begins. They might tell you right away that you have more stuff to move than was in the agreement. Or they might wait to mention that until after they load everything into the truck. The latter scenario is more ruthless. That’s because they can now hold your possessions as hostages. The new price you’ll have to agree to recover them will be far higher than the original estimate. Potentially several times higher.
And if You Don’t Agree?
That’s what they’re counting on to subject you to the next step of the scam: Hostage loads. The mover will delay delivery of your belongings and even threaten to sell them at auction if you don’t pay up. Even if the movers inform you how much the inflated fees will be before the truck is loaded, they can still hold your time hostage. After all, you were counting on clearing out your house today. You don’t really have an opportunity to start looking for a different mover literally at the last minute. The scammer knows that and will manipulate it to his advantage.
In the United States, interstate and international movers are regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, an agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation. In 2019 it received 4,780 complaints from consumers, 57% of which involved overcharging. It is estimated, however, that only 10% of these cases are reported, so the actual number is far higher. One individual, who moved from Cleveland to Alabama, reported in mid-2019 that he was still waiting nine months after that to receive his belongings. He was charged an additional $4,200 for what the mover claimed were extra boxes after his possessions were already loaded on the moving van plus a $3,000 “pick-up fee.” And then the mover went out of business.
Watch Out for These Other Moving Scams
There are a few more scams that dishonest movers use. Some are less common, but extremely harmful. Others are extremely common but cause relatively lower losses per person.
For example, the scammers can ridiculously overcharge you for packing materials such as boxes, tape and bubble wrap. They might surreptitiously steal a few small items as they’re packing. There have even been cases of the moving company paying the victim a “security deposit” in case they break anything, then using that as a pretense to steal the whole lot. When the victim calls the police, the scammers inevitably claim the security deposit was actually the purchase price for the victim’s belongings. Talk about daylight robbery!
Eventually, of course, the moving company or broker will get a bad enough reputation — or enough legal complaints — that it’ll be impossible to stay in business. So the last step of the scam is reincarnation. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, a whole new scam company, with a new name and address, will appear on the scene to start the scam cycle all over again.
If you think you’ve been the victim of a moving scam, contact the fund recovery experts at MyChargeBack.