For many consumers, moving is a necessary step in pursuit of a dream. But some companies can turn the moving process into a nightmare. Items disappear. Prices jump. Delivery deadlines are missed. Goods are held hostage.
Consumers often feel helpless when dishonest moving companies exploit the trust placed in them to move a consumer’s belongings. But you can take steps before, during, and after the moving process to protect yourself and your belongings. By following the tips below, you can reduce the chances of being victimized in your moving process.
Before You Move:
- Start your research as early as possible. Taking the time to carefully research your options will help you select a reputable mover. Consumers should check on a business’ complaint history and reputation with organizations like the Better Business Bureau. Friends, neighbors, and relatives may also be able to offer suggestions.
- Check their license or registration. For interstate moves, you can verify that a mover is federally licensed by calling the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) at (202) 385-2423. For in-state moves, you can verify that a mover is registered with the Arizona Corporation Commission. Of course, just because a mover filled out the right forms does not mean that they’ll treat you fairly, so do not use these databases as a substitute for the research mentioned above.
- Know your rights. The federal government publishes two helpful booklets detailing your rights in the moving process: “Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move” and “Ready to Move.” Interstate movers are required to give you a copy of these booklets, but you should review this information before selecting a mover. These booklets and other information are available at www.protectyourmove.gov.
- Get on-site inspections and written estimates. Dishonest moving companies will often give you a lowball estimate over the phone or email, and then demand far more after your goods have been loaded onto their truck or taken away. In contrast, most reputable moving companies will do an in-home visit in order to give you a more accurate estimate, and will provide that estimate in writing.
- Ask about charges. Moving companies may surprise you with hidden fees, so ask about all charges before selecting a mover, and find out what method they will use to calculate your bill. Be aware that although in-state movers are allowed to charge hourly rates, you cannot control how much time the moving company takes to move your belongings. Make sure your written estimate includes all charges, so you have something to rely on if the mover later tries to change the deal.
- Be careful with brokers. Ask moving companies if they are acting as a mover or a broker. A broker may have a slick website or salesperson, but will hire a third-party moving company to actually move your goods, and you have no control over who the broker chooses.
- Move some items separately. If you have valuable items (such as cash, electronics, or jewelry), important medical items (such as medications or inhalers), or confidential items (such as bank statements), move those items yourself.
- Be present throughout the process. Being present when your goods are loaded allows you to answer questions, give directions, and ensure that nothing is left behind.
- Select adequate insurance. Interstate movers are required under federal law to offer a minimum level of insurance, but that minimum level is only 60 cents a pound. If you sign for that option on the bill of lading, you may receive far less for your damaged or lost items than you would expect. For example, if a 5-pound TV you bought for $500 is damaged or lost in the move, that insurance would only pay you $3 for that item. If you want full coverage, you’ll need to purchase full coverage insurance either from the mover or a third party.
- Carefully read documents before signing them. Dishonest movers have been known to alter estimates and add undisclosed charges the day of the move. Review all documents closely before signing, and don’t sign anything that you don’t agree to.
- Be present throughout the process. This will allow you to direct the movers, answer questions, and check your goods against the inventory list.
- Pay the mover what is owed. In interstate moves, fees are typically based on weight or volume, and part of the mover’s fee will often be owed at the time of delivery. The fee for an interstate move should be paid when the mover arrives to unload your items. In any case, if the mover demands more than is owed, call the Arizona Department of Public Safety’s moving hotline at 602-223-5000.
- Check your goods before signing an inventory list. Moving companies provide an inventory list showing the delivered items. In most cases, by signing that list, you affirm that the items were delivered and were undamaged. Before signing the inventory list, carefully check to insure you have your items, and inspect them for damage.
After Your Move:
- Where’s my stuff? Some scammers create “hostage load” situations, in which the company will not release your goods until you pay extra (usually in cash). In this situation, please call the Arizona Department of Public Safety’s moving hotline immediately at 602-223-5000.
Tell us what happened. If you believe you may have been victimized by moving fraud or witnessed an attempted scam, please file a report with the Arizona Attorney General and with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.