Moving scam nightmares: How to avoid financial loss, emotional stress

There are few things in life that are more stressful than allowing people you don't know into your home to handle your personal belongings.

But as the weather begins to warm up, more people are hiring moving companies to help assist them in relocating to new homes and apartments.

The Better Business Bureau is warning consumers to be on the lookout for bad movers looking to scam people out of their money and property.

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An in-depth investigative study conducted by the BBB last year found that scams in the moving industry are widespread, with an average of 13,000 complaints are filed each year about movers.

"The bad news is for consumers not doing their research, they can end up in the hands of bad movers who can price gouge, tack on additional charges to the move, hold items hostage, or be outright scammers," said Steve Bernas, president and CEO of BBB of Chicago and Northern Illinois.

People load furniture into a moving truck. (Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images / Getty Images)

Before hiring a moving company, Bernas said consumers should educate themselves on scams to look out for and tips to avoid becoming a victim:

Common Moving Scams

BBB findings show consumers can find themselves involved in some all-too-common scams including:

  • You are provided with an estimate, only to have the mover add on extras once they have your belongings in their possession. Their estimate is not valid, and they can tack on as many additional costs as they’d like. If you want your furniture back, you have to give in and pay the additional cost.
  • The mover gives you an estimate for the cost of your move and then changes the arranged deal at the last minute. They will sell you on a low price, but in the end, the cost of your move ends up being double or triple what you agreed to.
  • An unreputable mover will add on additional charges based on unfounded reasons, such as giving you an estimate based on weight, but after your valuables are on their truck, they charge you extra, claiming the cubic feet have exceeded the weight estimate. Since this is impossible to calculate, you’re stuck paying the fees or giving up your goods. Other charges include saying that packing wasn’t included in the price or charging more because your items weren’t completely packed.
  • You contract to have the mover pack your items and promise to deliver your belongings on-time. Then they call saying your belongings are in the back of a truck behind two other people's belongings, so you can’t receive your items until theirs is delivered first. Or, if the mover has a licensing violation and their truck is impounded, your valuables are stuck on board until the truck is released.
  • You pay for your move, the mover loads their truck with your belongings, then closes up shop and flees, abandoning your shipment either on the truck or in a private storage facility. This scam allows the mover to take off with your money and your belongings.

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Tips to Avoid Getting Scammed

  • Check out reviews and ratings at BBB.org
  • Before hiring a moving company, look up a mover’s license number on FMCSA’s website.
  • Don't Fall for a Front Company: Double check that the mover has a real address and is not just a scam artist representing a reputable moving business. Be sure the mover has lists the brick-and-mortar address on its website.
  • Don't Give a Deposit: A mover that demands a deposit upfront will likely take your money and run. If a mover demands a deposit, move on to a different business.
  • Don't Pay Cash: When you pay cash, there is no evidence of a transaction. If your belongings aren't moved or you don't get them back, you have no evidence of ever having paid for the service.
  • Look for a Branded Truck: Real moving businesses have real moving trucks, complete with branding and logos. To make sure scam artists don't drive off with your belongings, check the truck for a logo.
  • Do Not Sign a Partial Contract: Ensure the contract is complete and all filled in before signing anything. Make sure the contract is more than two pages and includes all of your goods.
  • Buy Extra Insurance: A reputable mover will offer additional types of insurance to ensure you have the highest protection in the event of an accident or damage.

If You Are the Victim of a Moving Scam