Jacob Beckstead
September 14, 2022
Article type:
Moving Help & Tips
Applies to:
All Moving

How Can You Avoid Moving Scams by Illegitimate Moving Companies?

Moving scams can be difficult to spot. Buying a move is a customized process, not a fast-food menu, and scammers count on it being a service you may not be familiar with. Scammers are taking advantage of customers at an alarming rate. So the more you know, the better prepared you can be for choosing a reputable moving company.

Moving Scams Were on the Rise in 2020 and 2021

With everything that happened in 2020 and 2021, many people across the U.S. were forced to make drastic changes to their life. Not only did that include self-isolating and missing out on time with loved ones, but it also included temporarily relocating for many.

The increase in the demand for movers and transportation coincided with an increase in moving and broker scams. According to a report conducted by Utah's KSL, both federal- and state-level agencies have noticed a drastic rise in fraudulent complaints filed by customers.

The story, though tragic when intermingled with so much collective hardship, seems to be similar all around. Customers are either trying to move quickly or are looking for the lowest prices, and they end up in a situation where their move is wrought with difficulties. Some customers discover that they're working with a move broker instead of a moving company and are forced to pay double or triple what they're originally quoted on moving day. Others have their things held hostage and cannot find them for months on end. And some people even have their belongings taken to an unknown location, never to be seen again.

KSL's story on the rise of moving scams highlights the massive impact these scams have on individuals just trying to relocate to a new place. The thousands of dollars and massive headaches these experiences cause are enough to make customers no longer want to trust the moving industry as a whole.

Common Moving Scams

However, as information on what to spot with moving scammers becomes more available, customers can quickly identify and move on from potential scammers. As more people use the internet to research moving services, flashy web pages can make bad movers appear to be trustworthy. You can avoid being the next victim of a bad mover by learning the tricks that these types of companies will likely use.

Here are a few examples of common moving scams:

  • The Hostage
  • The Bait and Switch
  • The Extra Delivery Charges
  • The Always Late Delivery
  • The Abandon

Let's review each of the common scams to learn more about what they mean and why they fool so many people.

The Hostage

This situation begins like many. The scam mover starts their process by giving you an estimate. In most cases, the hostage scammer appears to be like most moving companies, but their prices are quite low, and their timelines seem too good to be true.

After signing a vague contract and once they have your belongings in their possession, extra fees begin to appear. The hostage scammer utilizes unclear contract methods which allow them to add on extra fees once you no longer have a choice. This will often double or triple the cost of your move. And if you want your furniture back, you must pay the additional costs.

What Good Companies Do Instead:

Most good moving companies want to teach you how to avoid moving company scams. You will be provided a detailed, complete inventory of what you're going to move with your written estimate. If you have extra stops, storage, packing, or any extra services you will see them listed on your contract. You know the exact price you'll pay before you move. You'll also see potential charges for common things that can occur during a move that would change the price of your contract. This includes things like needing shuttle services or extra packing materials. Look for a company that focuses on customer service and is willing to teach you on the particulars of your written estimate and moving contract upfront before you sign.

The Bait and Switch

The bait and switch scammer will quote you the cost of your move, but at the last minute, the company will try to arrange a new deal. They sold you at a low price, but in the end, the cost of your move ends up being nothing close to what you agreed to.

This situation works a lot like that of the hostage scammer. The key difference here is the bait and switch typically happens before your shipment's loaded. It happens so close to the time of your move that you feel pressured to accept the new terms.

It's not uncommon to have the bait and switch scammer call the day before and cancel your move unless you agree to a new contract, leaving you to pay much more than you agreed to initially.

What Good Companies Do Instead:

Once reputable movers agree to a date with you by contract, they fulfill it under the agreed-upon price. You can book a move months out and the contract will remain the same.

There do exist very few rare exceptions, most notably with timing or availability of crew members. If a reputable mover can't fulfill your order – they''ll workshop options with you to accomplish your move. They won't outright cancel your move without notice and any pricing changes are nominal. No matter what, you will know any updates to your move before you sign.

Good moving companies communicate and inform you of the possibilities surrounding your shipment and its timeline. Like a trusted advisor, a good company will explain any pricing changes as soon as possible so that you were aware before they even occur.

The main difference between a scammer and a trusted moving company is how they teach you about their service, communicate the potential challenges that might arise, and the intention to provide you good service.

The Extra Delivery Charges

A scam mover will find reasons to charge you additional fees that weren't discussed in the beginning. This often happens with unreputable movers who measure shipments by cubic feet. It's easy to under pack boxes and leave room in the truck to extend the shipment's measured size.

Not all movers who measure shipment size by cubic feet are inaccurate in their measurements, but it's easier to cheat numbers with size rather than weight.

If you fall victim to this type of scam, know you're stuck paying additional fees or risk losing your belongings on moving day.

Other common charges include items like packing that was not included in your estimate, but they did it anyway without asking. Then, they charge more because your goods weren't totally packed and ready for the move.

What Good Companies Do Instead:

To start, most good moving companies will charge based on weight or time. Shipment weight is easily measured and verified by a third-party company. Cubic feet sounds easy enough, but how will you verify it? If they say your items are "so-many" cubic feet of space, is that verifiable?

No. At least not as easy as a weight from a public, certified scale or a simple timesheet.

What's more, the packing will be clearly listed on a good contract with a reputable mover. If it's not, the mover won't be packing unless you agree to it later. If you are doing the packing, good movers tell you what you'll need to do in order for them to be able to load and ship it safely.

Most of these scams can be avoided by having good communication with a mover. If they seem to avoid talking to you or explaining your quote, be wary.

If we sound like a broken record, it's because the majority of these scams can be avoided by having good communication with a mover. If they seem to avoid talking to you or explaining your quote, be wary.

The Always Late Delivery

This is a classic. The always late scammer will come to pack and load your belongings. After, they'll promise to deliver your belongings on a specific date. Then, they call saying your goods are in the back of a truck behind two other peoples' belongings, so you can't receive your furniture until theirs is delivered first. There's always some reason they can't deliver on your agreed-upon date, and you're left waiting and waiting for your things.

In another version, the mover ends up with a licensing violation, and their truck is impounded in transit by the Department of Transportation, all your valuables are stuck on board until the truck is released. Either of these situations results in your goods being delivered weeks late...or not at all.

What Good Companies Do Instead:

To start, a reputable moving company will give you a delivery spread instead of a firm date. The reason being, logistics are complicated and delays can happen. Just like an airline that might not arrive on time due to various conditions, trucks can arrive late. To help you plan, a good moving company gives you a range of dates when the shipment will arrive.

If it still, due to various unforeseen circumstances can't arrive within that date spread, you will receive compensation in the form of a delay claim, which a good moving company can help you file. All of this will be outlined before you move, and left with you in a booklet called "Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move".

The Abandon

As arguably the worst of the scams customers fall victim to, the abandon scammer takes your things and never gives them back. Many unreputable moving companies only exist for a few months before disappearing and starting again under a new name. Hard to believe? Believe it. Anyone with a truck and a few dollars can register as a mover, even with no experience. Abandon scammers will take your money, load your belongings, then close up shop and flee, leaving your shipment either on the truck or in a private storage facility. This scam allows the mover to take off with your money, your belongings, or both. If you are lucky enough to find where your belongings ended up, expect to pay exorbitant amounts of money to retrieve them from the independent storage facility.

Don't Fall into the Traps Set by a Scammer!

How can you avoid these common pitfalls many individuals and families fall into when moving? We've listed out in each scam some differences between the scammers and good moving companies, but here are some tips for choosing a mover for the best possible moving experience.

Regardless of if you choose Bailey's Moving & Storage or not, we want you to have a good moving experience. Call it a pride thing, but we hate bad movers, and we don't want you to have to go through what many have in the past.

  1. Demand an On-Site Estimate: Reviewing your belongings in person with an estimator establishes two things: First, it assures the estimator creates an accurate itemized inventory, and it allows you to ask as many questions as possible, in person, to the moving company representative. Remember, good communication is key to avoiding a scam. With COVID-19 transforming the way we live and work, some companies may not be available to come on site, but if a company refuses to perform an in-home estimate, it's usually a red flag.
  2. Check the Company's Address: A real mover will have a real address. Once you get the address, it's worth verifying. Some do a google map listing view, or physically drive down to see the facility. Seeing a warehouse with an office and real people working is a good sign this isn't a scam company.
  3. Ask for Recommendations from Friends and Family or Reviews: One of the best ways to find a great mover is through word of mouth from people they have moved before. Check out reviews online too, because the number of reviews as well as the content written in them, can help you determine a new company from a trusted, reputable company.
  4. Ask your Real Estate Agent: Real estate agents help people move all the time. They are a great source for a good mover.
  5. Get Three Competitive In-Home Estimates: Get three estimates from three different moving companies. If there is a significant disparity, this will help you to easily identify a fraud. This is the most common way to spot a potential problem. You showed the moving company the same belongings each time, so their inventories should be identical. All that should vary is the pricing.
  6. Choose a Mover who Bases Price off Weight or Time, Not Cubic Feet: Time is more common for local moves, while weight is the standard for long-distance moves. Again, this is about being verifiable. With time, you can verify with a timesheet. With weight, a public scale can show you heavy and empty weights.

A Few More Tips on How to Protect Yourself from a Moving Scam

There are some simple steps you can take to prevent falling into scams with a mover, and certain things you should never do when moving.

  • Do Not Give a Deposit: A mover that demands large deposit upfront likely has an agenda other than securely moving your belongings (like taking your money and running). If a mover demands a deposit, move on to a different company. Paying by credit card can also help you avoid problems.
  • Avoid a Move Broker: Move brokers are companies that sell you a moving service but pay a different moving company to do the work. They keep the difference between whatever they charged you and what the moving company charges them. The problem with this arrangement is that they have an incentive to charge you as much as possible and/or hire as cheap a moving company as they can. Companies with associations with van lines are not moving brokers and are generally held to a higher standard than one-off companies.
  • Do NOT Pay Cash: Paying cash is asking for trouble. When you pay cash, there is no evidence of a transaction. Therefore, if your things aren't moved, or even worse, you don't get them back, you have no evidence of ever having paid for service.
  • Make Sure the Truck is Branded: Real moving companies have real moving trucks, complete with branding and logos.
  • Do Not Sign a Partial Contract: You would never sign a loan agreement or binding contract of other sorts with blanks; the same rule applies for moving contracts. Make sure the contract is complete and all filled in before signing anything.
  • Do Not Agree to a Vague Contract: Make sure you sign a complete moving contract or one that is more than two pages. All your household goods should be listed on the contract.
  • Invest in Valuation Coverage: You get to choose the level of liability a mover has over your belongings. A reputable mover will offer additional types of moving valuation (like insurance) to give you the best protection when you move. While this is important on all moves, if you're using interstate movers, this will help keep you protected. The longer the distance you're moving, the more likely something can break.
  • Ask About their Claims Policy: Find out more about how the company processes claims in the event you should need to file one. Should you file a claim, you want to make sure it is handled quickly and properly. For local move claims, each state has its own regulations. You can find more about claims on interstate moves by referring to the Rights and Responsibilities When You Move document put out by the FMCSA.