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Protect Yourself From Moving Scams

Learn how to spot criminals and the best ways to ensure a stress-free move

spinner image an illustration of men standing around a moving truck
Illustration: Matt Chinworth

Among 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) received more than 17,000 complaints and negative reviews in 2023 about movers. More than $188,700 was reported lost to BBB ScamTracker,

But losses to moving scams are likely much higher. In 2022, a leader of a fraudulent moving ring that operated 12 companies across 10 states was sentenced to six years in prison. The criminals stole at least $2.4 million from their victims.

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How moving scams work

Rogue operators reel their victims in online with flashy websites and glowing reviews that they’ve paid to get in your search results. Once they have your business, the scam may take one of these directions.

No-shows. They ask for a large amount of money up front, and “with your deposit in hand, the movers might simply not show up,” says Melanie McGovern, director of public relations for the International Association of Better Business Bureaus.

Last minute changes and charges. Movers text you and tell you they need another man, more boxes or that they didn’t factor in the contents of another bedroom. There shouldn’t be these kinds of changes, says Ryan Bowley, executive director of the American Trucking Association’s Moving & Storage Conference (ATA-MSC), which represents movers. 

Hostage load. Criminals load the truck and then tell you the amount due has gone up from $5,000 to $7,000 on a pretext, such as it took an extra hour to load the truck, says Bowley. “If they get [your money], maybe they’ll complete the move, but if they don’t, then they take the goods and try to auction them off or sell them.”

Warning signs of a moving scam

Experts suggest you select another moving company if you notice any of the following red flags.

No address on website. A legitimate company will have a physical address on its website. You want the address to double-check their licensing and to confirm the company is legitimate. Bowley suggests putting the address into Google maps. You want to see a warehouse with trucks, not a house or mailbox service.

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Have you seen this scam?

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

No U.S. DOT number. The U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) requires all movers to have a U.S. DOT number and to have operating authority to carry out interstate moving services. You should see the U.S. DOT number on a mover’s website. For moves in-state, movers must follow state regulations, which vary by state. Most states require companies to have a U.S. DOT number, and many do their own licensing as well. Check with your state’s movers association for information and guides.

Estimate given over the phone. According to Bowley, giving you an over-the-phone final estimate differentiates a rogue mover from a legitimate mover. Companies should either come in person to see what will be moved, or do a video walk-through with you. A mover can’t give you a price without seeing what needs to be moved, says Bowley.

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Rented trucks. Be wary if the movers show up in rental trucks rather than company-branded vehicles. Same goes for calls that are answered with a generic identification such as “movers” or “moving company,” rather than the company’s name, says McGovern.

Forms have blanks. Movers ask you to sign blank or incomplete forms, offering to fill them in later. Don’t sign anything not filled out and completed.

How to protect yourself from this scam

Once a dishonest mover has your goods on the truck, they have all the leverage, so your best defense is to take time and care in choosing the hauler.

Get referrals. Ask relatives, friends and neighbors who have moved recently. Real estate agents can be another good resource.

Research companies. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s database shows an interstate moving company’s status and complaint history. ATA MSC’s ProMover directory lists certified professional moving companies by state. Look through BBB profiles to find BBB accredited businesses. “We encourage people to read the complaints and the resolution and the reviews on multiple sites, not just ours,” says McGovern.

Are they a moving company or a broker? Brokers are salespeople who subcontract jobs to moving companies. If you’re not talking to the company doing the move, “You don’t know if they were background checked or if they are licensed,” says McGovern. Or that someone will show up to move you. Evasive answers and pressure to sign agreements are red flags.

Get multiple in-home estimates. Experts recommend you get at least three estimates from different moving companies. If one is much lower than the others, be skeptical.

Do a walk-through. Accompany them on the walk-through of your house and ask how anything antique or delicate will be handled, says McGovern. Ask what the liability is if you pack fragile items yourself instead of them.

Estimates should be based on weight. Rogue movers use cubic feet to give a price because volume is less precise and easier to manipulate for later upcharges, says Bowley. Pricing should be based on how much your goods weigh.

Clarify anything you don’t understand. “Go through [your contract] with the moving company line by line to make sure that you understand it,” says McGovern. Some things to look for are liability for anything damaged or broken, how payment will be handled and that services are all documented. “Reputable companies will … explain all the charges, what they mean, how they’re calculated.” If the answers aren’t clear, consider a different mover.

Getting ready for the move

Know consumer rights and responsibilities. Your mover should have given you a copy of FMCSA’s booklet detailing how estimates, invoices, liability for loss or damage and other issues must be handled. “Spending 25 minutes or an hour reading through that and understanding it … is a very wise investment,” says Bowley.

Get everything in writing. This includes estimates, inventory, order of service [description of all services mover will perform] and the bill of lading [your contract for the move].

Print out documents or save electronic copies. You should have easy access to all documents pertaining to your move on moving day. “Print out and save electronic copies, because scammers can delete an estimate they provided,” says Bowley.

On moving day

Supervise the move-in person. “Plan to be available during loading and unloading,” says Bowley. If you can’t be at your house to answer questions, ensure everything is packed, caution movers about delicate items and have a trusted representative stand in for you to supervise.

Inventory your belongings. Make a list of items to be moved, and take time-stamped photos or videos, suggests McGovern. Your mover is making an inventory as they load and unload your goods, which you can compare against yours to ensure its accuracy. 

Get any revisions in writing. Make sure any changes in the moving plan are documented.

Use a credit card, never cash. Your card provides protection if there is a dispute or you suspect a scam, unlike gift cards and cash transfer apps .

If you’ve been a victim

FMCSA has a place to file a complaint online or on its hotline at 888-368-7238.

U.S. DOT Office of Inspector General takes reports online or via its hotline, 800-424-9071.

You can also report to the BBB’s Scam Tracker.

Notify your state’s attorney general or consumer protection office.

Moving resources

FMCSA’s Protect Your Move has advice on preparing for an interstate move, selecting a mover and avoiding fraud, along with moving checklists. ATA MSC’s consumer information center offers detailed moving tips, along with its ProMover directory. Movers listed on the directory have agreed to follow the association’s ethical guidelines.

The BBB has a hub advising readers on selecting the best type of moving service for your move.

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Have you seen this scam?

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