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Moving Scams

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 11,700 complaints in 2023 about movers. Consumers lost more than $188,700, they reported to the BBB Scam Tracker in 2023. ​​

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Reeling customers in

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.​

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) or adding fees that can double the cost of your move.

​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, a scenario known as a “hostage load.” In 2023, a Brooklyn, New York, jury convicted two people of using bogus fees and holding customers’ belongings hostage. The defendants and others fraudulently obtained more than $3 million from at least 800 customers. ​​

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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.

An ounce of prevention 

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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Most states 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.​​

Warning signs

  • No address on the website. A moving company’s website doesn’t list a local address or provide information about its registration and insurance options.​
  • No mention of company name. Calls are answered with a generic identification like “Movers” or “Moving company,” rather than the company’s name.​
  • Estimates are made by phone or day of move. Reputable companies will come to your house and do an on-site inspection before providing an estimate.
  • Large advance payments required. The company requires a large deposit or full payment in advance.
  • No branding on trucks. The movers show up in rental trucks rather than company-branded vehicles.
  • Forms are not filled out. Movers ask you to sign blank or incomplete forms, saying they’ll fill them in later.​
  • Demand for additional money. They demand more money once they have your belongings.​​

How to protect yourself from moving scams

Selecting a mover:

  • Get referrals. Ask relatives, friends and neighbors who have moved recently. Real estate agents are another good resource.
  • Research companies you’re considering. Look up their BBB profiles, and use the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) database to review an interstate mover’s registration status and complaint history. The American Trucking Associations has a program called ProMover that certifies professional moving companies that meet certain standards. ​
  • Consider more than cost. Scammers will quote a low price to get their foot in the door. Consider other factors. When hiring a mover, take into account the company’s registration status and service record, among other things.​
  • 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.​
  • Estimates should be based on weight. Rogue movers favor volume because it’s less precise and easier to manipulate for later upcharges, according to the BBB. Pricing should be based on how much your goods weigh, not the volume in cubic feet.
  • Ask questions if you don’t understand something. If the answers aren’t clear, consider a different mover.​​

Before moving day:

  • 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. ​
  • Examine all documents carefully before signing. Make sure all documents are completely filled out. You should not sign incomplete forms. Make sure you understand the contract and ask for clarification if you don’t understand anything. ​
  • Print out documents and save electronic copies. You should have easy access to them on moving day. Do not rely on a link in an email. Scammers may delete an estimate they provided.​
  • Know your consumer rights and responsibilities. Interstate movers must provide you with an FMCSA booklet detailing how estimates, invoices, liability for loss or damage and other issues must be handled.
  • Get contact info for the driver as well as the moving company. You’ll want to confirm what services you expect the crew to perform by phone before your move.
  • Don’t pay cash. Use a credit card, never cash. Your card provides protection if there is a dispute or you suspect a scam. ​
  • Plan to be available during loading and unloading. If you can’t be at your house to answer questions, ensure everything is packed and give caution about delicate items. Have a trusted representative stand in for you to supervise.​​

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spinner image cartoon of a woman holding a megaphone

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.