10 common moving scams and how to avoid them

When faced with a relocation, your primary goal is to hire a moving company that provides you with the best ratio of quality to service. However, by doing so, you are exposing yourself to a moving scam. To avoid common moving scams, you will need to look into more than the price tag for your relocation. Finding the best interstate moving companies and choosing one to assist you with moving is all about avoiding fraudulent moving companies and entrusting your relocation to the right hands. In this article, we will provide you with a list of 10 moving scams, as well as a few tips on avoiding them.

The most common moving scams

Moving scams are getting progressively more intricate as the years go by. But some scams are more prevalent than others, including:

  • “Lowballed” estimates
  • False references
  • Blank contracts
  • Fine print
  • Extra fees
  • No insurance protection/valuation
  • Exorbitant deposits
  • Holding your goods “hostage”
  • Shoddy equipment and unprofessional labor
  • Lost/damaged items
one of the most common moving scams - a blank contract
Never sign a blank contract!

Most of these scams “feed off” a particular need or an emotion. For example, a lowballed estimate relies on the customer to be so happy with the offer that they forget to conduct additional research. Another example is the scamming company inducing panic in their customers, forcing them to make a choice then and there or the deal window will pass. The most important thing that you need to do is always keep calm. Analyze the market and moving companies, see what the real costs are, and you will be avoiding most of the scams from happening to you.

Unrealistic estimates

One of the most common moving scams is when a mover is trying to “lowball” their estimate. They usually present a customer with a deal that is simply too good to refuse. However, the fact of the matter is that if a deal is too good to refuse, it is most likely not a legitimate deal. What usually happens is that the moving company gets their deposit and then vanishes without a trace. Even if they do appear at the agreed-upon date, their services will suddenly cost much more than what you agreed on. They will have all sorts of reasons to justify this, but it is a moving scam nonetheless.

To avoid this particular scam from happening to you, you will need to conduct some research and do a comparison. Get an estimate from several moving companies, including some of the more reputable and well-known ones. Even the largest moving company will have similar prices to all the other moving companies on the market. Take note of what these companies are charging you for, and what services you are hiring from them. Even a reputable mover can provide you with a low initial estimate if they do not include some of the necessary services.

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False references

A savvy customer always looks for references when hiring any professional. But it is not always easy to verify if those references are real or not. Moving companies that are out to scam you will have a “dummy” website, complete with fictional testimonials and certifications. All of this means that you can’t afford to be too trusting simply because a company has a good-looking website!

goggle sign under a magnifying glass
Don’t implicitly trust websites.

You have several means at your disposal to avoid hiring movers that provide you with false references. First, you can opt to only take personal references into account. They are much harder to fake. Then, you can verify the company’s credentials on trusted sites such as the BBB (Better Business Bureau), or you can check the Yellow Pages. You can also visit “external” review websites, as the companies can’t directly control them.

Blank contract

Another one of the highly common moving scams is when a mover presents you with a blank contract. Even if you know that you should never sign a blank piece of paper, these scammers usually have a way to get “under your skin”. They might be so charismatic and confident that you might not even think of something going wrong. And that is when they get you. Everything that you discuss with your movers needs to be in writing. Do not accept handshakes as a way of “closing the deal”, on their own.

Luckily, this scam is really easy to avoid. You just need to only sign a moving contract once all the details are in. If you want to be extra careful, you can even send that contract to a lawyer for further inspection. While this may create an additional cost, doing so will provide you with additional safety. And it will also help with the following scam.

The fine print

Aside from not signing a blank piece of paper, you also need to understand what you are signing. When a moving company presents you with a binding contract, you need to make sure that there are not any clauses that are detrimental to your situation. An example of this is negotiating a guaranteed price for your relocation only to find out that the contract allows for it to change under certain conditions. This is a very simple trick that most scamming companies will try on you.

To avoid it, all you need to do is read the contract thoroughly, as well as fully understand it. All the specific conditions need to be clear and concise, and there should be no room for misunderstanding.

Extra fees

This moving scam can be very hard to distinguish. Most moving companies offer extra services that are not included in the estimate. However, what the scamming companies will do is intentionally exclude the services your relocation will require. As one of the most common moving scams, extra fees can be very hard to avoid. If this is your first time moving, you can’t possibly know about all the services that your relocation will require. Unless you conduct thorough research.

Make sure your estimate includes any stair charges.

Furthermore, the scamming companies will usually conduct a service, not tell you about it, and then charge you extra at the end of the relocation. This can easily double or triple your moving costs. The way to avoid this scam is to be well-informed of the moving services that your relocation requires. Talk with several moving companies, have them explain exactly what services your relocation might need, and provide you with an estimate. You may even want to get a few binding estimates for added safety, as they provide you with a guarantee of cost.

In fact, getting a binding estimate from a reputable mover is the best way to avoid any extra fees. However, some moving companies might present themselves as reputable, even leaning on another company’s good name. That is why you need to be diligent at all times.

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No insurance protection or valuation

A professional moving company is obliged to provide its customers with either an option for insurance or valuation protection. If your mover does not provide you with any of these options, you are most likely talking to a scammer. The fact of the matter is that accidents do happen in the moving industry, due to one reason or another. Going into relocation without any protection is simply not a smart thing to do.

However, there is something of a gray area when it comes to valuation protection or even insurance. Even if your mover provides you with the option, the contract might state that they need to replace the current value of your belongings. You can imagine how this clause can drastically reduce the value of your items. Before you sign anything, make sure that you understand what kind of liability coverage your mover is offering you. Reputable moving companies will usually offer several choices, ranging from full value protection to a percentage of the item’s price.

Avoiding this moving scam is relatively simple. All you need to do is not entrust your items to a mover that does not offer sufficient coverage. You still want to talk to several moving companies and get the feel of how much the protection will cost you, on average.

Exorbitant deposits

Most moving companies will ask for a deposit, this is a fact. However, these deposits are usually small and represent a small percentage of the overall relocation cost. If your mover is asking for a considerable sum of money before they render any services, they are most likely about to scam you. The reason why this works is due to the fact that scammy movers will offer higher quality services, favorable conditions, or even a more convenient timeframe. If you just make the deposit, you will be able to reap all the benefits! That is what they want you to believe.

In reality, once these scammy movers get their deposit, it is very likely you will not hear back from them anymore. Or if they do arrive, you may find that there is no preferential treatment or any of the benefits you were promised.

A good rule of thumb here is to never pay more than 20% of the cost of your relocation in deposit. While some reputable companies might ask for up to 30% for long-distance relocations, they are few and far between. Furthermore, you will want to use a credit card for this deposit. The reason for this is that credit card payments have the ability to be refunded to you or stopped altogether. If you want to achieve maximum safety, ask your movers for a refundable deposit option, in writing. Having that will make it very easy to get a refund from your credit card company.

person paying with a credit card, avoiding common moving scams
Always use a credit card for deposits.

Holding your goods “Hostage”

One of the most common moving scams is when your movers demand more money from you before returning your possessions to you. In the industry, this is known as “Holding the goods hostage”. Most people cave in under the pressure as they want their items back, even if it costs extra. Or your movers might tell you that an accident happened to your items or that there was some sort of a mistake. After a while, the company “disappears” altogether!

The problem with this particular moving scam is that it avoiding it requires extensive research. You will need to make sure that your movers do not have any complaints about similar behavior. This means calling the FMCSA’s hotline for safety violations and consumer complaints, as well as reading customer reviews and complaints on various online databases such as Yelp. The more research you do, the better your chances of avoiding this scam.

Unprofessional equipment and labor

A professional moving company needs to have the necessary licensing for its operations. To get these licensed, a mover needs to have a professional workforce, as well as suitable equipment. But the companies that are out there to scam you need nothing of the sort. Since you would never sign an unprofessional moving company, the way this scam works is through “moving brokerage“. This means that the mover you have signed the contract with sells the contract to another mover. And the second movers might not have experienced employees, may be operating out of shoddy rented trucks, etc.

That is why you need to make sure that you are checking the USDOT number of your movers. When negotiating for services, make sure that the contract clearly states if they are using subcontractors, as well as their USDOT number.

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Lost or damaged items

The last of the common moving scams on our list is having some of your items lost or damaged. These items may mysteriously disappear during the relocation, netting a nice bonus for the fraudulent movers. Unfortunately, there is no way to fully protect from this scam. Accidents do happen, after all, and who’s to say what really happened during the move.

What you want to do instead is make sure that your valuables are as safe as they can possibly be. In fact, you should be transporting any extremely valuable items on your own. Of course, good research will help with all the common moving scams, including this one.

This is just the beginning

Knowing about the moving scams is just one piece of the relocation “puzzle”. If you want to know all about moving, as well as which companies are worth your money, Consumer Opinion Guide is where you will find all the information. Explore our knowledge database and make your relocation as smooth as it can possibly be!

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