Real Estate Matters

Two Common Moving-Company Scams and How to Avoid Them

By Ilyce R. Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin
Saturday, March 22, 2008

If you had to list your biggest fears about moving to a new home, what would they be?

You might be worried about the movers breaking something of value. Or you might worry that a box will get lost. Or that the movers won't show up on time -- or perhaps at all.

But the one thing you probably aren't worrying about may be the biggest concern of all: that the moving company you hired is a scam company, holding your stuff hostage until you fork over a wad of cash.

"There are bad guys out there for a number of reasons, just like in any other industry," said Linda Bauer Darr, president and chief executive of the American Moving and Storage Association.

Darr said there are two primary scams consumers should watch out for when hiring movers: the hostage-goods scam and the advance-deposit scheme.

"In a hostage-goods situation, somebody has already moved your stuff and quoted you one price. But by the time you get to the destination, they're holding on to the goods and they ask you to pay an inflated price," she said. "We all know that when someone's charging twice the amount they originally quoted, something's gone afoul."

In a deposit scam, movers ask for a lot of money upfront and then never show.

Bill Borgman, senior vice president of Graebel Relocation, described a common hostage-goods situation: "Most of the scam artists have a few tractor-trailers and some warehouses, but relatively few. They will give a lowball estimate over the phone. The price will be too good to be true. They'll want the consumer to give a deposit upfront of 25 percent of the total. They'll make the arrangements, pick up your boxes and leave. Once they knock on your new front door, they'll ask for a credit card or certified check for twice the amount. When the consumer doesn't have it, they'll drive away with all the goods. The consumer then gets an invoice for a grossly inflated amount, a bill for four or five times what they were originally going to pay."

How can you protect yourself from a moving scam? There are a few big red flags to watch out for, according to Steve J. Bernas, president and chief executive of the Chicago region of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois. They include:

  • The moving company has no interest in an on-site inspection of your goods, which is key to giving you an accurate estimate of your total moving cost.

  • The movers will accept only cash or a large deposit before they move.

  • The company's Web site has no local address or information about licensing.

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