Beware Of Movers Who Take You For a Ride

By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, May 27, 2007

Few things in life match the stress and expense of a big move -- just ask anyone who has recently changed addresses.

"Moving is a major decision that can really impact your financial status," said Paul Golden, spokesman for the Colorado-based National Endowment for Financial Education, which recently issued a list of tips to help make your move a smoother ride.

It's timely advice, given a recent report issued by the Government Accountability Office on the regulation of interstate moving companies by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Each year, about 40 million Americans pick up and move, and many are likely to do so between now and Labor Day. While the majority of the moves happen without incident, the GAO reported that about 3,000 consumer complaints were filed against interstate movers last year.

"The really serious complaints are rogue movers or scam movers," says David Sparkman, vice president of communications for the American Moving and Storage Association, which represents the interstate movers. "These people are thieves who are pretending to be movers."

In the most classic and prevalent scam, a moving company will give a low estimate to pack up someone only to substantially hike the quoted price once the items are loaded on the trucks. If the consumer doesn't pay the new price, the belongings are held hostage.

Last year about 15 percent of consumer complaints filed against movers involved hostage goods. In one case, a Massachusetts woman said a mover loaded her goods on a truck and demanded $16,000 afterward. That was more than four times the company's estimate of $3,600.

By federal law, interstate moving companies are required to release your belongings to you when you pay 100 percent of the charges in a binding estimate or 110 percent of a non-binding estimate where additional weight or services have caused the final price to increase, according to Tim Walker, who started after he was scammed by a moving company.

But rogue companies "aren't afraid to drive away with everything you own unless you pay them whatever they decide they want to charge you for your move," Walker said.

Walker, whose Web site is a must-see before you hire a moving company, says his biggest tip for consumers is to be wary of hiring companies from the Internet.

The American Moving and Storage Association also has issued warnings about shopping for a mover online. Use the Internet for research. For example, go to, the site run by the industry association. It has advice on how to choose a mover and avoid the scams. Sparkman said you should be skeptical of Web sites that look good but could be run by dishonest brokers who don't actually own a moving company. They collect a deposit and then refer consumers to rogue movers, he said.

Legitimate referral companies will generally not ask you to pay an upfront deposit, Sparkman said. If you are asked for a significant deposit, look for another company.

Walker suggests looking locally when choosing a company. Get recommendations from friends and neighbors who have recently moved. Check with local real estate agents, who often keep lists of moving companies.

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