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Everything You Need to Know to Avoid Moving Scams

Moving Tips and Hacks

by Easton Smith Posted on December 27, 2023

The past several years have offered ample opportunities for illegitimate movers to take advantage of people. The combination of a hot housing market, the pandemic, and a spate of natural disasters created the perfect petri dish for crooks to devise moving scams. The frequency of these swindles has decreased since the peak of the pandemic. But in 2023, moving scams have been on the rise again — with an expected 35 percent increase since last year.

But don’t worry. It’s not all doom and gloom. If you’re planning to move in the coming months, there are simple ways to avoid moving scams and increase your chances of working with an honest, reliable company. Knowing how to avoid moving scams is all about watching out for red flags:


We’ll go over some of the major warning signs in detail below. But first, let’s talk about some of the main ways people are getting scammed these days. 

  • Fake moving companies take your money and then don’t complete the move. Sometimes they’ll even steal all of your belongings in the process. 
  • Companies hold your stuff hostage until you pay an exorbitant fee for bogus services. 
  • The classic bait-and-switch: Companies give you a super-low estimate to get your business, then overcharge you upon delivery. 

One of the easiest ways to avoid these scams from the beginning is to use a very well-known, reputable company, like PODS Moving and Storage. But if you do choose to go with a mover you’re not already familiar with, keep an eye out for the following red flags. 

moving scams sometimes include a request for cash payment or a large deposit upfront
(Source: Alexander Mils via Pexels)

How To Spot a Moving Scam: Red Flags To Look For

One of the easiest ways to avoid these scams from the beginning is to use a well-known, reputable company, like PODS Moving and Storage. Do your due diligence and research, of course. But if you choose to go with a mover you’re not already familiar with, keep an eye out for the following red flags. 

1. Requiring Cash Payment or a Large Deposit Up Front 

Deposits are kind of like tipping: Not everyone knows when it’s appropriate or not. But in most cases, quality moving companies will not require a deposit when booking your move. (By the way, tipping your movers isn’t required, but it’s greatly appreciated.)

There might be legitimate reasons for a company to require a deposit. During peak moving times (in summer months) and in high-volume areas, some movers might need a small deposit to save the date of the move. 

But if your mover is asking for cash up front, that’s a sign of one of the many moving company scams out there. To be sure you’re dealing with a reputable company, ask questions: “What’s the deposit for?” and “Is making a deposit standard practice for your company?”

If your mover has satisfactory answers to those questions, you’ll likely be fine. But you should still proceed with caution to make sure you don’t get duped by one of the nefarious moving broker scams making the rounds.

moving scams might include offering quotes site-unseen
(Source: Anna Shvets via Pexels)

2. Offering a Quote Sight Unseen

If you’ve ever tried to load your car for a short road trip, you probably know it’s hard to estimate how much stuff will fit into your vehicle. Well, putting everything you own in a moving truck is the same concept — times about 1,000 — which is why a lot of traditional moving companies like to do in-home estimates. 

One of the best ways to avoid a moving scam is to make sure you get a real, in-home estimate. You have the opportunity to actually meet your mover, ask questions, and be sure you’re getting an accurate quote. 

Some legitimate movers may be able to give you a ballpark estimate of your moving costs based on the size of your home and the distance you’re going, but it’s very different from an actual quote or contract. Good movers know that there’s no way to gauge the actual size and weight of your items without being in the room.

Got a lot of stuff? Unlike with traditional movers, PODS’ pricing isn’t based on the weight of your belongings, so as long as your plans don’t change, the price quoted is the price charged. Get a local moving quote online within minutes or a long-distance moving quote by calling 877-350-7637.
a woman makes a face while looking at a suspiciously low quote for moving services
(Source: Yan Krukov via Pexels)

3. Offering a Quote That Seems Suspiciously Low 

If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. A super-low moving cost estimate could be a bait-and-switch moving scam. 

The bait-and-switch is a scam where you get a low quote initially, but then the company demands a huge price upon delivery. The movers will then claim that they didn’t know you had so much stuff or the move took longer than expected. 

Other Possible Bait-and-Switch Warning Signs: 

  • The mover wants to charge by cubic feet rather than weight.
  • It’s hard to get a firm quote or paperwork from your mover. 
  • The mover says they’ll figure out the price after they load everything. 

If your original quote does seem too low, check the customer reviews and company certification, and consider getting a second quote from another company before continuing. 

How much should your move actually cost? 
As mentioned, it’s tricky to give an accurate quote without actually seeing your stuff. But there are some price ranges that typical moves usually fall into. Here’s a look at some estimates for long-distance moves using three different types of services: moving containers, full-service movers, and rental trucks. 

Moving Route Miles PODS Full-Service Movers Rental Truck
NYC to
2,800 $4,064–$5,871 $4,039–$8,109 $1,936–$4,127
NYC to
San Francisco
2,900 $4,718–$6,920 $4,239–$8,510 $2,014–$4,296
Miami to
2,730 $4,039–$5,609 $3,980–$8,012 $1,906–$4,059
Miami to
San Francisco 
3,110 $3,922–$5,448 $4,399–$8,832 $2,077–$4,431
Based on estimates from PODS and MoveBuddha for a 2–3 bedroom household (800–1,200 sf); costs don’t include insurance or taxes. Prices will vary based on specific locations, dates, size of household to be moved, and available discounts.

4. Not Showing Up as a Licensed Mover in the FMCSA Database

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is like the health department of the moving industry: If your mover isn’t listed with them, it’s time to find a new company. 

The FMCSA’s website lets you search for licensed movers by three different methods: USDOT number, MC/MX number, and company name. You should be able to find the USDOT number on the mover’s website, or you can call and ask them for it directly. 

One thing to watch out for is a company that changes its name or isn’t clear about its name. If the moving company you’re working with answers the phone with a generic “moving company” or “movers,” then that’s a red flag. Some scam moving companies will change their names often to avoid bad ratings with the Better Business Bureau or to avoid licensure with FMCSA. 

Q: How do I not get scammed by moving companies?
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration provides guidance to help you avoid getting swindled — or having your belongings stolen. Here are the agency’s top 5 tips for protecting yourself:
- Get a written estimate.
- Make sure the company is authorized to move your household goods and insured.
- Check the mover’s complaint history in the FMCSA database.
- Remember your priorities when choosing a mover.
- Do your homework.

tons of bad reviews can be a red flag of moving scams

5. Receiving Bad (or Zero!) Reviews From Customers

Let’s get something straight: All moving companies — even wonderful, licensed movers — have some bad reviews online. In fact, online reviews tend to skew negative because people don’t usually take the time to review something unless they’re upset. 

But legitimate customer reviews (not those the company boasts on its own site) can help you get some pertinent information. Look for familiar movers’ reviews on third-party sites that include specifics — the date of the move, the problem(s) they encountered, the response from the company — rather than just a star rating.

If you see multiple reviews that recount the same sketchy experience, you can take it as a legitimate warning of a possible scam. This doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t use the company, but it does mean you should ask follow-up questions and be on the lookout for problems. 

Another red flag: no reviews at all. If a company has no reviews, it’s best to stay far away.

signing a contract
(Source: Edar via Pixabay)

6. Asking You to Sign Blank Contracts or Paperwork

Nobody reads the fine print on the boxes they check or the things they sign, right? Well, when you’re paying thousands of dollars to have people haul your worldly belongings across the country, you may want to take the few extra minutes. 

Your contract (sometimes called “order for service”) is the only thing that protects you from myriad moving scams. It should have clear language that outlines the company’s name, address, and the services being provided, as well as the agreed-upon costs, fees, and insurance policies. 

If any of this information is missing from your contract or sections are left blank, DO NOT SIGN! It can be hard, especially if a mover tells you it’s “standard” to just sign the contract and fill it out later, but it’s an important way to make sure you don’t get overcharged — or worse. 

Q: How common are moving scams?
: The Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration tracks complaints — and there are a lot. In 2023, experts expect the number of moving scams to increase by 35 percent from the year before. That’s up from 7,647 complaints in 2022 and a whopping 10,133 in 2021. By comparison, just 3,030 customers reported scams back in 2015. So do your homework!
woman having trouble communicating on a call
(Source: Alex Green via Pexels)

7. Making It Difficult To Communicate

Moving companies can sometimes act like they’re too busy to talk to you or answer your questions. But the truth is, you’re paying for a service, and you deserve to know what’s happening. So if your mover seems reluctant to answer questions, or they’re impossible to get in touch with, take that as a big red flag. Many moving scams can be nipped in the bud early by just having regular, friendly conversations with your movers about the services they provide and the costs associated with them. 

Too Late? Here’s How To Report a Scammer.

If you look out for the red flags above, you should be well prepared in how to avoid moving scams. But what do you do if you have been scammed by a moving company? The first step is to make sure you’re actually experiencing a scam and not just a small slip-up. 

Movers will sometimes accidentally damage an item, charge a few unexpected fees (like tolls), or get delayed for a legitimate reason. These are not moving fraud and are not reasons to report the company (although they may be reasons to give your fellow consumers a heads-up with a review). 

But if your stuff is being held hostage, you’re being significantly overcharged, or the moving company has suddenly changed the terms of your agreement, here are some steps you can take: 

  1. File a complaint with the moving company itself. 
  2. File a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, the FMCSA, or the American Moving and Storage Association. 
  3. If the above don’t work, hire an attorney and sue the company. 

Often, just the threat of reporting moving fraud will help resolve your case. 

Here’s one more thing to remember: You are the paying customer — legitimate companies will go out of their way to make the process as smooth as possible to earn your business and referrals. 

If your moving company candidate passes the red flag tests, it’s now time to cover the rest of the bases with additional tips for vetting moving companies, what to consider when you’re hiring cross-country movers, and, if you opt to go the DIY route, some ideas to save money and reduce stress. Best of luck!

(Credit for photo featured at top: Ketut Subiyanto via Pexels)

Easton Smith works as a freelance writer and researcher, reviewing technology trends and the moving industry. He moved all around the continent, from New York to California, before landing back in his hometown of Salt Lake City.

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