BBB warning: Moving scams abound

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BBB has encountered several moving companies that are causing headaches for consumers and the BBB. Last August the US Attorney’s Office in Cincinnati announced indictments against several moving companies and individuals based in locations throughout the country.  
Careful research before hiring a moving company is necessary to avoid being a victim of a moving scam. Scammers can turn relocating into an expensive nightmare. These scams run the gamut from missing items, massive price hikes, and in some cases, goods being held hostage for additional payment. Long delays and changes in delivery dates are a frustrating nuisance for folks.  “An out of area company or broker may claim a local presence in order to gain trust,” said Chris Coleman, President and CEO of the BBB serving Greater Iowa, Quad Cities and Siouxland Region.

How a Moving Scam Works:

There are several versions of moving scams. The simplest is getting a quote and leaving a deposit, but the “movers” never show. In another variation, the moving company quotes a price based on weight. After loading, they inform you that your belongings went over the weight estimate and the additional weight will be a lot more per pound.

With the most egregious scheme, everything seems to be fine. The movers quote a price, arrive on time, and load your belongings on a truck. But when the truck doesn’t show up at your  new home, either your belongings are simply gone forever or are being held “hostage” and you have to pay another fee before delivery is made.

Note that some customers may unwittingly contact a broker as opposed to the actual moving company. Carefully check out who you choose-hiring a moving broker is much different than hiring a moving company; they act as middlemen between you and a mover, so make sure you know who you are working with. Know and understand their respective obligations.

Tips to Spot a Moving Scam:

Watch out for signs of a fly-by-night company. Look out for company websites that have no address and no information about a mover's registration or insurance. Another warning is if telephone calls are answered with a generic "movers" rather than a company name, or the mover uses rented trucks. Another tip-off is the moving company that doesn’t make an on-site inspection but does estimates over the phone.
Be wary of unusual requests. If a mover asks for a large down payment or full payment in advance, that may be a warning sign. And if a company says it won’t return your items to you without more money than you agreed to pay, contact BBB or local law enforcement for help.
Know who you are dealing with. Contact BBB and check www.bbb.org to determine what sort of company you in contact with. Frequently the company is in fact a broker and not the actual mover.  Arrangements are made with a third party mover and the customer is at their mercy and subject to their scheduling. Significant delivery date delays and confusion have been reported.
Get everything in writing. Check licensing with the authorities (in the U.S., contact the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to check out interstate movers and their authority to conduct business), confirm insurance coverage, and get a written contract. Carefully read the terms and conditions of the contract, as well as the limits of liability and any disclaimers. Make sure pick-up and delivery dates are spelled out and understand how the rate is being calculated. Don’t pay cash and don’t prepay or make a large deposit. Understand the terms of the insurance coverage and consider purchasing full value protection yourself.
Keep an inventory of your belongings. Make a detailed inventory of your property and number the boxes they are packed in for tracking. Know that a mover is not liable for loss or damage of contents in customer-packed boxes, unless there is provable negligence on the part of the mover.
Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about anything you don’t understand. If the moving company can’t or won’t answer your questions, you might want to look for another mover.
For assistance with making buying decision, obtaining company information or filing a complaint contact BBB at www.bbb.org/iowa .To report a fraudulent activity or unscrupulous business practices, go to BBB Scam Tracker.