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Common Moving Company Scams and How To Protect Yourself (2024)

Author Image Written by Shane Sentelle Updated 04/04/2024

two movers inside a home loading packed boxes onto a cart
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Moving company scams are on the rise. In 2023, customers filed 12% more complaints about moving scams than in the previous year, according to Better Business Bureau and HireAHelper data. While hiring a top-rated moving company can help ensure you won’t fall prey to a scam, raising awareness about moving scams is important for consumer protection. We’ll identify some of the most common moving company scams and give you some tips on how to avoid them.

Key Findings

In 2023, the average victim reported losing $836 to a moving scam.
The mover “no-show” scam accounts for 26% of common moving scams.
Moving scams are most common in Wyoming (1 in every 4,426 moves) and least common in Texas (1 in every 41,410 moves).

Common Moving Scams

Minor property damage or losses don’t necessarily constitute moving fraud. It’s a scam if the moving company is deceptive or makes false promises. Common scams include movers ghosting customers or charging fees that aren’t disclosed in advance. Before booking a mover, prepare yourself by reviewing the most common moving scams below.

No-Show Movers

No-show movers will provide an estimate and ask customers to pay a deposit, but on moving day, they’re nowhere to be seen. Before booking a move, verify that your movers have a U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) number through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) portal. 

Bait and Switch

A bait-and-switch move happens when the moving company gives you an estimate, but after loading all your belongings on their vehicle, they increase the price. They may argue that your possessions weigh more than originally estimated or that additional services are required. 

Some moving companies only provide non-binding estimates, which means the price can change based on the weight of your belongings on moving day. Understand the type of moving estimate provided by your moving company and whether it’s binding or non-binding. If available, ask moving companies for a binding written estimate for services. 

Hostage Goods

In a hostage goods scam, moving companies refuse to unload your possessions from their vehicle and claim you owe them more money than you originally agreed upon. Reputable companies will provide a written contract containing all agreed-upon fees. Make sure you understand the fine print. 

Hidden Fees

Some companies may tack hidden fees onto a move, including fees for extra packing materials, additional insurance, or special handling for certain items. Ask for a list of all possible charges in writing before moving day.

Phantom Weight

Reputable interstate moving companies charge based on the total weight of your possessions. In a phantom weight scam, a moving company claims that your shipment weighs more than it does and charges you higher fees based on this inflated weight. By federal law, you have the right to watch the moving truck being weighed, although you may have to arrange with the company ahead of time to be there for the weighing process.

11 Red Flags To Look For in a Moving Company

The following red flags may indicate a moving company is not above board. 

  1. The mover gives an estimate without having seen your goods. 
  2. The mover refuses to give you a binding estimate or tells you they can’t determine the final cost until your goods are loaded. Note that some companies only offer non-binding estimates, and this doesn’t indicate a scam in isolation. 
  3. The company insists you pay cash or put down a sizable deposit upfront.
  4. You can’t find a legitimate physical business address for the moving company. For example, its address is listed as a P.O. box or residence. 
  5. When you call, employees answer the phone without mentioning the company by name. 
  6. The company has numerous complaints on the Better Business Bureau (BBB) website, on online review sites, and in the FMCSA database. 
  7. The moving company doesn’t give you its U.S. Department of Transportation number, which may mean it isn’t registered. You can check a company’s licensing status here.
  8. The company cannot provide proof of insurance, including liability and workers’ compensation coverage. 
  9. Before a move, the company doesn’t give you a bill of lading, the legally-required contract that serves as your receipt guaranteeing the terms and conditions of your move.
  10. The company fails to give you the legally-required documents Your Rights And Responsibilities When You Move and FMCSA’s Ready to Move brochure.
  11. There’s no way to get updates from the driver during your move with any questions or to stay informed about when your shipment will arrive. 

How To Protect Yourself From a Moving Company Scam

There are several important actions you can take before and during a move to protect yourself against scams.

Research the Company

Research local and long-distance moving companies by reading reviews on reputable third-party sites such as BBB and Trustpilot. 

If you’re considering a moving company that isn’t well known, take the following steps before entrusting the mover with your belongings:

  • Ensure the company has a physical address (not a P.O. box) and a website.
  • Check its online reputation. Although a company can pad its online presence by soliciting fake reviews, reading reviews across multiple review sites such as Yelp and Google can give you a more reliable view of customer experience. 
  • Check licensing. Ask for the company’s USDOT number and ensure it’s officially listed with the FMCSA here
  • Check for red flags in the company’s complaint and safety history. The BBB is a good place to start. Search the FMCSA database to view the company’s complaint history. Detailed safety records are also available in the FMCSA’s Safety and Fitness Electronic Records (SAFER) system.
  • Ask to see proof of insurance. Ensure the company has liability and workers’ compensation coverage. 

Review Payment Terms

Reputable moving companies don’t require cash payment or a large deposit upfront. Here are a few things to consider before making your first payment:

  • Understand the payment terms: A moving contract could involve a set fee or an hourly or fixed rate. Once you sign the contract, you are legally obligated to pay the amount listed. 
  • Read the contract closely: Ensure that additional charges, such as fees for long carries, stairs, or packing materials, are outlined in your moving contract. 
  • Review cancellation fees: Understand the company’s cancellation policy and any fees that may apply if your plans change.
  • Avoid cash-only payments: Companies that insist on cash payments could be evading taxes or trying not to leave a paper trail. Consider paying via credit card so that you have the protection of your credit card company in the event of a scam.

According to our February 2024 survey of 1,000 homeowners, 40.3% prioritized affordability when looking for a moving company. However, remember that although budget is important, it should not be the sole deciding factor. If you pick the cheapest option just because it is the cheapest, you may get what you pay for.

Schedule an On-Site Inspection

We recommend working with a moving company that will schedule a pre-move inspection so there are no surprises on moving day. 

Your movers will assess your house to identify any obstacles or hazards, such as a broken stair, that may arise during a move—or for any property damage that existed before their arrival. They will examine your possessions to determine if there’s anything that needs to be handled with extra care, such as valuable art or a piano.

A pre-move inspection ensures that the moving company knows how many items you plan to move so they can give you an accurate estimate of how much your move will cost.

Get Everything in Writing

Request the following documents and keep records in the event you need to file a complaint.

Request a written estimate from each moving company you consider that specifies whether it is binding or non-binding. Binding moving estimates guarantee the total cost of your move. Non-binding estimates may change based on the final weight of your belongings or additional services rendered.
Ensure the mover provides a detailed list of all your belongings, including each item’s estimated weight and value. This document will serve as the basis for determining the cost of your move and addressing potential disputes or claims for lost or damaged items.
Review the moving contract carefully before signing to ensure it includes all agreed-upon services and fees. The contract should specify method of payment, deposit requirements, and cancellation policies. Never sign a vague or blank contract.
The bill of lading is an official document that serves as a receipt for your belongings. In addition to outlining the terms and conditions of your move, it should include the mover’s contact information, its USDOT number, and pickup and delivery dates. Review the bill of lading before signing, and retain a copy for your records.
Under federal law, all interstate movers must offer complimentary released value protection and the option to upgrade to full-value protection. Confirm the type and extent of insurance coverage provided by the company, and obtain a written copy of its policy. If you choose to purchase additional insurance, ensure you receive written confirmation of the coverage and its terms.

What To Do If You Fall Victim to a Moving Company Scam

If you find yourself the victim of a moving scam, act quickly to protect your belongings and seek recourse. Taking prompt action maximizes your chances of a favorable outcome.

  • Gather documentation: Document every aspect of the issue, including any correspondence, receipts, or paperwork you have with the moving company. Save emails and write down the time and date of all phone conversations, including the name of the person you spoke to. This information will support your case if you need to file a complaint. 
  • Contact the moving company: Give the moving company the opportunity to rectify the situation. Calmly discuss what went wrong and how you have documented it. Let them know that if the situation isn’t resolved, you’ll file a complaint with the FMCSA and the BBB.
  • File a complaint: If the company is unresponsive or uncooperative, escalate the matter by filing a complaint with the FMCSA and the BBB. The USDOT also has a fraud hotline you can call to report the company. The American Trucking Association (ATA)’s Moving and Storage Conference is another organization that takes complaints. State agencies also take complaints.
  • Involve law enforcement: If your belongings are being held hostage, you may need to involve law enforcement to resolve the issue. Contact your local police department and provide them with the necessary documentation to support your claim. 
  • Find an attorney: Legal action may be required to recover your possessions or seek compensation for damages. Consult an attorney specializing in consumer protection or moving industry disputes to explore your legal options.

Our Conclusion

Moving scams are on the rise, but knowing how to identify them can help consumers avoid getting scammed. We recommend requesting multiple estimates, thoroughly researching moving companies, and understanding exactly what’s in your contract to avoid unwelcome surprises on moving day.

FAQ About Moving Scams

Do movers ask for money upfront?

Reputable movers typically do not require a large deposit before the move. However, some movers might ask for a deposit upfront to secure your moving date, especially during peak moving seasons. This deposit may be a set dollar amount or a percentage between 10% and 40% of your total move cost. 

What should I do if I think I’m being scammed by a moving company?

If you think you’re being scammed by a moving company, you should take the following steps:

  • Keep records of all correspondence and paperwork related to your move. 
  • Contact the company directly to discuss your concerns.
  • File a complaint with the BBB and FMCSA if the issue remains unresolved. 
  • Involve law enforcement if your belongings are being held hostage.
  • Consult an attorney to discuss your legal options. 
  • Share your experience by posting reviews online.

What should I look for when hiring a moving company?

Here are a few things you should look for when hiring a moving company:

  • Adequate insurance coverage
  • Multiple payment options
  • Positive online reviews
  • Professionalism
  • Solid FMCSA track record
  • Transparent pricing
  • Valid USDOT number
  • Written estimate

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