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Moving scams: Avoid the headache by checking consumer reviews

"But, don't you have to list charges like that on my bill?" I asked.

"Beeeeeeeeppppp." That is the sound of them hanging up.

Epic fail #2

And that's when it happened. I hopped on the computer to file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. But first I did a quick Google search to see what, if anything, I could dig up. What I found was shocking.

Five seconds of searching led me to a variety of online review sites, all with terrifying reviews. Customers were overcharged. They were lied to. Their possessions were held hostage. And when they called for a resolution, they were yelled at and hung up on. It all sounded eerily familiar.

Once I made my way to the BBB website, I also discovered that they had lost accreditation altogether. Unlike the A or A+ many businesses have, this particular moving company was sitting pretty with a D+ (The BBB rates businesses on a scale of A+ to F). It was ugly.

Obviously, I should've researched the company ahead of time, even though I had used them in the past. It had been six years, after all, and a lot can happen during that time.

Failing to use the free resources available on the internet was my first mistake according to Manuella Irwin, a relocation specialist who writes for MyMovingReviews.com.

I reached out to Manuella and her site to see what I could learn and to uncover any potential advice for readers who may find themselves in a similar position. According to Manuella, the moving industry is rife with all kinds of scams. Here are a few of the most common:

  • Giving a low-ball quote- Dishonest movers often give customers a low-ball quote in order to book business. Then, once the move is already underway, they'll hit customers with additional charges that weren't disclosed ahead of time. "Extra" charges added after the fact can include charges for stairs, the removal of appliances, waiting times, bulky items, multiple stops, and packing materials.
  • Giving estimates over the phone- The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires interstate movers to execute a survey before issuing an estimate. By federal law, if your home is located in a 50-mile radius from mover's place of business, the moving company is required to base your estimate on a physical survey of your household items, unless the consumer waives the requirement in writing.
  • Bait and switch- One of the most common "bait and switch" moving scams involves movers refusing to honor a quote after the truck is already loaded. In those cases, it's common for movers to cite the weight of a customer's items as the culprit.
  • Possessions held hostage- When customers are hit with hidden charges, they're often outraged. Since overcharged customers may be unwilling to pony up the extra dough, movers have been known to take possessions hostage until they're paid.

Moving scams on the rise

Although that last one might sound outrageous, it's actually much more commonplace than people realize. In fact, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration just shut down five moving companies in one week for holding customer shipments hostage.

And according to the BBB, moving scams are still a huge problem, despite the many consumer protections that have been put in place over the last decade. According to a recent press release, the BBB received over 1.4 million moving-related inquiries and more than 9,300 complaints against movers in 2012. That's a lot.

But, even though the moving industry may be prone to scams, there are still plenty of ways to protect yourself. The U.S. Department of Transportation's ProtectYourMove.gov is a treasure trove of information for those who want to steer clear of predatory movers. The site is full of advice for consumers, including these simple steps for those searching for a reputable company for their move:

  • Check out the BBB profile of movers you are considering as well as their complaint history at ProtectYourMove.gov.
  • Ask for recommendations from family and friends.
  • Get written estimates from at least three movers so that you're able to compare all costs and fees.
  • If you're moving to a new state, check to see whether the interstate mover is registered with FMCSA, and has a USDOT number.
  • Ask if your mover has a dispute settlement program.
  • Find out what types of insurance are available and take special care to adequately insure your belongings, if necessary.

As is usually the case, a little research done beforehand can go a long way. If I had spent even five minutes investigating the company we chose, I would've run for the hills. Lesson learned. I'll also check and double-check any bill that I'm presented with in the future, even if I'm exhausted or in a hurry. Some companies are institutionally dishonest, but sometimes people are just bad at math. I've learned that you should always double-check, even if you think that the intentions of people are good.

Thanks to the Internet, consumer reviews are all over the place. With the click of a mouse, you can find out the good, the bad, and the ugly, as well as whom to trust and whom to avoid at all costs. And there's no reason not to check. I've learned that and I hope that this story serves as a cautionary tale of "what not to do" when you're getting ready to hire out a big job.

Do you read company reviews ahead of time? Have you ever wished you did after the fact?



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