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Moving Scams

With all there is to do in ramping up for a relocation, no detail is more worth sweating than picking the right moving company. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) receives an average of 13,000 complaints and negative reviews a year about movers, and a June 2020 investigation by the organization found widespread price gouging and fraud in interstate moves.

Moving scams are committed by rogue operators that exist primarily online. They solicit business by offering lowball estimates, often without so much as laying an eye on what’s to be moved. They might demand a hefty deposit, or even full payment in advance.

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From there, the scam can go in several directions. With your deposit in hand, the “movers” might simply not show up at the appointed time and place. Or they’ll try to change the deal at the last minute, jacking up the price on a pretext (for example, your estimate didn’t include packing, or your load is overweight). More than 40 percent of moving-related complaints to the BBB involve overcharging. 

Worst case, the movers might disappear with your stuff, abandon it in a storage facility or refuse to deliver unless you fork over yet more money. That scenario, known as a “hostage load,” accounts for 7 percent of fraud complaints to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the government agency that oversees interstate movers.

Once a dishonest mover has your goods on the truck, it has all the leverage, so your best defense is to take time and care in choosing the hauler. Start by ensuring any company you are considering is licensed. All interstate movers must register with the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT).

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Have you seen this scam?

  • Call the AARP FraudWatch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360 or report it with the AARP Scam Tracking Map.  
  • Get Watchdog Alerts for tips on avoiding such scams.

Most states also require companies doing in-state moves to have that USDOT number, and many do their own licensing as well. Check with your state’s movers association for information on regulations where you live.

Follow these additional steps to help ensure you, and your belongings, don't get taken for a costly ride.

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Warning Signs

  • A moving company’s website doesn’t list a local address or provide information about its registration and insurance options.
  • Calls are answered with a generic identification like “Movers” or “Moving company,” rather than the company’s name.
  • The company gives an estimate by phone or online without making an on-site inspection of what’s being moved.
  • The company requires a large deposit or full payment in advance.
  • The movers show up in rental trucks rather than company-branded vehicles.
  • Movers ask you to sign blank or incomplete forms, saying they’ll fill them in later.
  • They demand more money once they have possession of your belongings.

How to protect yourself from this scam

  • Do get multiple, in-home estimates from movers (experts recommend at least three). If one is much lower than the others, be skeptical.
  • Do get estimates based on the weight of your goods, not the volume in cubic feet. Rogue movers favor volume because it's less precise and easier to manipulate for later upcharges, according to the BBB.
  • Do research on companies you’re considering. Look up their BBB profiles, and use the FMCSA’s database to review an interstate mover’s registration status and complaint history.
  • Do get referrals. Ask relatives, friends and neighbors who have moved recently. Real estate agents are another good resource.
  • Do know your rights and responsibilities when you move. They’re detailed in an FMCSA booklet that interstate movers are legally required to provide to customers.
  • Do ask questions if you don’t understand something. If the answers aren’t clear, consider a different mover.
  • Do get everything in writing. This includes estimates, an inventory of your goods (including the condition of each item), the order for service (which lists pickup and delivery dates and services the mover is providing), and the bill of lading (your contract for the move and the receipt for your belongings). Get any revisions in writing, too.
  • Do get contact info for the driver as well as the moving company.
  • Don’t use a company that won’t provide a written estimate or says its employees will determine the price after loading.
  • Don’t hire based solely on cost. Scammers will quote a low price to get their foot in the door. Consider other factors, such as the company’s registration status and service record.
  • Don’t pay a large deposit. Some legitimate movers ask for a down payment to reserve a date, especially during busy times like the summer, but “be wary of carriers seeking large down payments,” according to the American Trucking Associations, a national industry group.
  • Don’t pay cash. Use a credit card, which provides protection if there is a dispute or you suspect a scam.
  • Don’t sign blank or partially completed documents. Some shady movers use incomplete estimates to change the cost or other terms without your consent.
  • Don’t let packing or loading start if the mover tries to change the estimate. Get a revised estimate that you both sign, listing the additional items or services and a new price you both agree to. Keep a copy for yourself.

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spinner image cartoon of a woman holding a megaphone

Have you seen this scam?

  • Call the AARP FraudWatch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360 or report it with the AARP Scam Tracking Map.  
  • Get Watchdog Alerts for tips on avoiding such scams.