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Common Moving Scams
You search for your mover online and pick one of the top ads. The company asks you to fill in a form which has questions about how big your home is and how many boxes you will be moving amongst other questions. You are ecstatic – you fill in one form and you have 5 or 6 quotes come back to you in no time at all. Your work is done, because everyone has told you to get at least 3 quotes.
Since all of the quotes are about the same amount of money, you choose one and book it, paying a large down payment of hundreds or even thousands of dollars. The nice, professional sounding employee happily takes your credit card information and assures you that there is no need for one of their representatives to confirm the number of things you are moving – these are typical prices for studio, 1 or 2 bedroom apartments. You feel assured because their website looks legitimate, and there are dozens (if not hundreds) of wonderful reviews from happy customers and a claim to have been in business for many years with well-trained employees.
But what you don’t know is that none of this is true. The reviews are fake and generated by a hired company and there are no employees. So-called independent mover review sites also may post fake positive write-ups for the moving scammer. And fraudulent moving company representatives initially are friendly and helpful on the telephone. However, when problems arise later, company staff cannot be reached.
Moving day arrives. And now the scam begins in earnest.
The company that you booked with is not the same company that shows up at your door. That’s because the company you booked with has outsourced the work to an operation that often hires temporary unskilled workers to load the customer’s belongings. They have not been trained in the proper way to wrap and carry furniture or to properly stack boxes on the truck.
Once the goods are on the truck, the driver usually does one of three things:
- Quickly rushes you to complete the moving paperwork and sign off on it so he can get on the road, or
- Advises you that the actual amount of goods to be moved exceeds the initial estimate and there could be extra charges.
- Upon delivery, the driver demands more money for the delivery of the shipment (the quote you were given was to move your things, not to deliver them).
In case 1, the paper that you have rushed to sign without reading fully, has you signing off on a flat rate for a weight far exceeding what you actually have moving. For instance, you may have 2,000 – 2,500 lbs moving, and the paperwork states that you will sign off on a flat rate for 7,000 lbs. All of a sudden, your $1,000 move is now $6,000.
In case 2, the driver can’t confirm how much the extra charges could be – “that’s not my job” – but he’s sure it won’t be a lot and the office will be in touch. In many cases, improvised weigh bills are produced to verify this sudden increase in your shipment size.
In both cases the driver gets away from you as quickly as possible. Soon afterwards, you receive a call from the company you booked with, explaining that you now owe a huge amount of money to them because you either signed the moving paperwork based on the inflated flat rate, or they’ve got the weigh scale tickets showing this increased weight. You must pay the amount or the company will simply hold on to your items until you do.
In case 3, the driver gives you a short time to come up with the extra money (often thousands of dollars) and if you can’t do that quickly enough, he’ll simply drive off without unloading or saying where he is taking your goods, effectively holding the belongings hostage. Furthermore, some victims report that they then face demands of additional storage fees for the items held hostage. Usually this is a monthly add on fee of at least $1,500 which will continue until the entire bill is paid.
Victims who resist the increased price are told that if they don’t agree to the higher price and new contract, their belongings will be unloaded on the curb. With their belonging essentially held hostage, victims often reluctantly agree and make a sizable payment. Often, the company will have the victim sign a document that stipulates that the customer will not be allowed to go to the police or media to report the fraud.
About move dates
Moving scammers regularly make promises about move dates on the phone even though their contracts state that the brokers do “not guarantee any pick-up or delivery dates, under any circumstances.” Contracts with moving scammers provide a “first available” date with a 21-day window to actually deliver, but they often do not arrive until well after that date, creating inconveniences for victims, who often sleep on floors for extended periods, especially if their shipment is being held hostage. Professional movers provide a pick up date and a delivery window of which they are obliged to deliver within, barring an unforeseen issue.
About lost or broken goods and mover’s liability protection
Many moving scam victims find that they have items that are lost or broken. For long-distance moves, goods may be unloaded into temporary storage facilities before they are reloaded onto another truck with those of other people who are having their belongings going to the same city. Moving scams often use locally hired unskilled help to load and unload goods, resulting in a higher risk that items will be lost or broken.
Movers are required to provide at least an initial estimate that provides full value replacement liability protection. With this coverage, if goods are lost, destroyed or damaged, the mover has the option to: repair goods to their original condition, replace them with articles of like kind and quality or pay for the cost of replacement.
Released Value Liability Protection
Moving scammers only offer Released Value Liability Protection, which covers goods that are lost or stolen at 60 cents per pound. If a 10-pound stereo worth $1000 was lost or broken, the person moving would only receive $6. Thus, victims with sizable damages may only be able to get a small sum payment.
Things to be on the watch for
- The company does not offer to do an in home or virtual survey with you to confirm what you are shipping.
- The company demands a large down payment of hundreds or thousands of dollars.
- The quote is based on number of rooms or cubic feet. Professional moving companies quote in weight (long distance moves) or number of hours to complete the job (local move).
- The moving company you choose has an office that you can physically visit. Victims regularly report that after the goods are loaded, the original moving company is difficult to reach and often simply stop answering calls.
- Contracts or correspondence from the mover that contain language stating that they will not “handle, or otherwise participate in a move as a carrier.” This indicates that the “mover” is actually a broker, collecting deposits and arranging the moves but not picking up or delivering the goods themselves. Instead, they “sell” the job to someone else and usually receive a portion of the money squeezed out of victims by those who do the loading and unloading. While being a broker is not illegal, it is very important to know if you are involved with one.
- The truck arriving on moving day is a rented truck, or bears no company name and the crew is wearing a hodge-podge of clothing items. While professional moving companies often rent trucks during the busy summer season, the staff are wearing company uniforms.
Tricks deceptive movers use
- Professional and reassuring demeanor on the telephone. As with deceptive telemarketers, they are trained to sound believable. It is much more difficult to detect a dishonest telemarketer or a person’s deceptive intent than many consumers realize.
- Sponsored web links so they appear at the top of search results, often using the names of legitimate movers as search terms in order to steal web traffic.
- Below-market price quotes with the intent to get more money from victims later in the process.
- Fake reviews from happy customers.
- Generic-sounding business names similar to those of reputable movers.
- Claims of being in business for many years, suggesting that they have experience and incentive to treat customers professionally or risk losing their reputations.
- Fake claims of BBB or CAM accreditation and the use of other trust seals online.
- Collaboration with other online sites that find movers for customers and post phony reviews.
- Illegal use of moving association logos and seals on their websites.
- Claims to operate locally. In reality, the addresses they provide may be a local mail centre address or another virtual office located in a different province or country that forwards mail and calls to the real location. Since they do not have local employees, they cannot appear in person to provide an estimate.
How to avoid rogue operators and find an honest one
- Don’t just use a simple internet search to find a mover. It is important to do a careful and extensive search to make sure you are dealing with an honest mover. After all, you are allowing someone you don’t know to drive away with almost everything you own. Check out movers in advance with BBB and CAM.
- Get three in-person or virtual estimates. Rogue operators rarely appear in person to give estimates. A low-priced estimate given over the phone can end up costing more than what a legitimate mover charge.
- Get an estimate based on weight, not cubic feet. Rogue operators prefer to give estimates in cubic feet. Volume is easier to manipulate than weight so they can later claim additional charges.
- Get full value replacement liability protection. It costs a little more, but may be well worth the price. Professional moving companies will offer coverage with their estimates.
- Watch out for large deposit or cash demands. In consumer (non-corporate) moves, other than a small down payment, honest movers don’t have you pay, in most cases, until just before the shipment unloads at delivery. If the mover demands that you pay when loading, you are dealing with a scammer.