It’s been a rough year for a lot of us — but not for moving scammers. The combination of a pandemic, a hot housing market, and plenty of natural disasters has resulted in ample opportunities for illegitimate movers to take advantage of people. Take California, for example. The Department of Consumer Affairs received more than double the amount of mover-related complaints between March and December of 2020 than it did during the same period in 2019.
But don’t worry. It’s not all doom and gloom. If you’re planning to move this year, there are simple ways to avoid moving scams and ensure you’re working with an honest, reliable company. Knowing how to avoid scammers is all about watching out for red flags:
We’ll go over some of the major red flags in detail below, but first, let’s talk about some of the main ways people are getting scammed these days.
Popular moving company scams include:
- Fake companies that take your money and then don’t complete the move. Sometimes they’ll even steal all of your belongings in the process.
- Companies that hold your stuff hostage until you pay an exorbitant fee for bogus services.
- The classic bait-and-switch — when a company gives you a super-low estimate to get your business, then overcharges 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.
1. Requiring cash payment or a large deposit upfront
Deposits are kind of like tipping: Not everyone knows when it’s appropriate or not. But rest assured, 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 some cases in which there’s a legitimate reason for a deposit. During peak moving times (like in summer months) and in high-volume areas, some movers might need a small deposit to save the date of the move, so their calendar doesn’t fill up too fast.
But if your mover is asking for cash upfront, that’s a sign of one of the many moving company scams out there. You should ask follow-up questions, such as “What’s the deposit for?” and “Is making a deposit standard practice for your company?”
If your mover has satisfactory answers to those questions, it might be fine, but you should still proceed with caution.
2. Offering a quote site-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 thing — 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 get 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.
Granted, in-home quotes can be tricky during a pandemic, but there may be socially distanced alternatives, such as a virtual walk-through. In any case, don't trust any quote that you get over the phone.
|Tight on time? 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.|
3. Offering a quote that seems suspiciously low
If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. If you’re emailed by a Nigerian prince wanting to give you his fortune, it's likely fraudulent. And if you get a super-low moving cost estimate from a company, it could be one of those bait-and-switch moving scams.
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.
Here are a few other warning signs of a possible bait-and-switch:
- 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 impossible 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 loose 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 |
|NYC to |
|Miami to |
|Miami to |
4. Not showing up as a licensed mover in the FMCSA database
You wouldn’t go to a restaurant if it hadn’t recently been inspected by the health department and considered sanitary, right? Well, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is like the health department of the moving industry, and 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, or 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.
5. Receiving tons of bad customer reviews
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 reviews on third-party sites that have 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 many reviews that list the same sketchy experience, then 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.
6. Asking you to sign blank contracts/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 precious 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. Your contract 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! 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.
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 shouldn’t have any problems. 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 reasons to report the company (although they may be reasons to leave a not-so-glowing 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:
- File a complaint with the moving company itself.
- File a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, the FMCSA, or the American Moving and Storage Association.
- If the above don’t work, hire an attorney and sue the company.
Often, just the threat of the above actions will help resolve your case.
Here’s one 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.
Think your top moving company candidate passes the red flag tests? Now it’s time to cover the rest of the bases with additional tips for vetting moving companies. 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.