You chose this post for one of three reasons:
1. You’re a sadist and getting scammed by a moving company is a thrill you’ve yet to taste (hey, we don’t discriminate).
2. You’re a mover that would like to study up on how to rip unsuspecting customers off. You deserve the cone of shame.
3. You’re an intelligent consumer who’d like to avoid scammy movers and hope that a clever title indicates equally clever and/or useful advice.
Whatever your motives we say to you all:
Welcome. You won’t be disappointed.
As stated, this post will inform you of the 10 best ways to get caught by a moving scam. We’ve organized these methods into sins of commission, the stuff you actively do that almost guarantees you’ll be scammed, and sins of omission, the stuff you fail to do that leaves you vulnerable to moving con artists—Do’s and Do Not’s if you prefer.
Without further adieu, then, here’s what you should do if you want to be ripped of by a mover:
Accept Web or Over-the-Phone Estimates as Final
The sucker that was born the same minute you were (in the same hospital no less) will definitely trust that the estimate they received over the phone or from an online moving calculator is the price that will show up on their bill come moving day. Falling into this trap sets up the most common moving scam of all time: Hostage Freight.
Once all your belongings are loaded onto the trucks, the mover determines that your items exceed the agreed-upon weight limit and charges exorbitant fees for the excess poundage. Don’t want to? Too bad—they have all of your stuff.
The solution is to get an on-site estimate or a binding estimate that spells out all potential charges and locks them to a specific rate. Better yet, do both.
Pay in Cash
They say, “Our connection is down this week, so you’ll either have to pay in cash or by check. We don’t take personal checks though—been burned by folks one too many times you see,” thereby making cash the most convenient and logical form of payment available. By paying in cash, you’ve eliminated any real evidence (that “receipt” you got? Yeah…) of a transaction. If your check-phobic movers decide not to move your stuff, or better, just keep it themselves, you’ll have a hard time proving you actually hired them to do anything. No worries though, they’ll be long gone by the time you try to figure out why you waited at your new home for a truck that never came.
The solution? At least pay with a check, and preferably by card. Paper trails and whatnot.
Put Down a Deposit
Deposits rarely make sense, and even when they do only jerks require them. Any mover that asks for a deposit up front is angling to either take your money and run, or just take money they don’t deserve. The question suckers never seem to ask is, “why?” If they did, then they’d realize there’s no reason for a company that’s about to handle your stuff to ask for deposit.
The solution is to turn and run the second a prospective mover asks for a deposit. Double points if you slide across the hood of your car while fleeing. Triple if you tell the mover that they should give you a deposit to trust them with your belongings. After all, they’ll get it back if everything is returned undamaged.
Sign Partial Contracts
Remember back in preschool when your teacher taught you to never write a blank check Remember how they told you that any unscrupulous character could then fill out the check with whatever dollar amount they wanted—even like, A MILLION DOLLARS?! It turns out the same rules apply when signing contracts. If there are blanks in the document don’t sign anything until they’re filled.
Act on Your First Estimate
Not only do the odds of you getting a decent deal go way down if you accept the first estimate that comes your way, you also won’t have any reference points to determine if the one quote you saw is a pricing outlier (a big red flag). Too high and you’ve spent hundreds or thousands that you didn’t need to. Too low and you’re probably dealing with a fraudulent company. Without other estimates to measure against, you won’t know if either is true.
Get at least three estimates before following through with a moving company—no matter how well-known their name is. How do you know which movers to get an estimate from? That question leads to our next boneheaded move.
Don’t Get Referrals from Acquaintances
Estimates from the first three movers you come across can produce decent results, but why risk bad apples when you can ask your friends, coworkers, siblings, neighbors, and new neighbors if they can recommend movers to work with or avoid. Start with your personal network before branching out to Google searches—nothing beats good word of mouth, and you’re less likely to encounter a false front once you do get online.
Don’t Worry About a Written Contract
Why this bears mentioning is beyond us, but for some reason people still like to operate off the old “my word is my bond” principle. You can still do that if you’re old fashioned, just make sure it’s the written word (preferably several pages worth). If you’re determined to do business on a handshake, then there’s no hope for you. Just turn your pockets inside out and hand it all over now. You were going to lose it anyway.
Why do you need a contract and what kind do you need? The why should be obvious: so that you have a record of what you and your mover agreed to. Make sure what you think and what your contract says are in perfect alignment though, or you could be in for some unpleasant surprises. We’ll cover the “what” with our next mistake:
Don’t Double Check Your “Binding Estimate”
Federal law only allows for two types of moving contracts: nonbinding and binding. Nonbinding estimates must not require payment beyond 10% of the original estimate. A binding estimate should be the guaranteed price for your move and any accompanying extras or services.
Scams occur in the fine print of binding contracts, where movers sneak in clauses that promise a binding agreement only if your belongings don’t exceed the weight in the original estimate. Ensure you have an airtight final price as part of your contract or be prepared for an impromptu yard sale.
Don’t Open All Your Boxes Upon Arrival
You only have 9 months after your move to file an insurance claim for lost, damaged, or stolen belongings. People who are eager to get ripped off procrastinate checking on all their items when they arrive. Instead they stuff boxes into closets and forget about them for years. Upon opening them, residents find that their trusted movers used the box as a soccer ball during a break from the heavy lifting (they weren’t very bright movers).
Check for damaged or missing items as boxes are brought into your home—it’s a little obnoxious, but it’s also the best time to ensure you catch anything that you’ll need to file a claim for.
Don’t Check the DOT’s Mover Registration Site
The US Department of Transportation requires that all interstate movers register with them. The DOT database includes information like the company’s contact and address information, any complaints filed against the mover, and their safety rating. If an interstate moving company doesn’t appear on this list or doesn’t display a safety rating then you absolutely should not use them for your move.
The solution is to take the time to search the database. Don’t stop there, though, your research should also include a search with the BBB, a scan for their business license, and a check on whether they maintain the correct level of insurance.