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The moving process can be expensive between packing, hiring movers, and storing belongings. Unfortunately, con artists will attempt to take advantage of movers and defraud them of thousands of dollars or even some of their belongings.

Scammers may entice consumers by offering incredibly low prices to pack and ship belongings, but will ask for an upfront deposit. They then take your deposit and disappear, leaving you to find a new company to move your belongings. Others offer a low price upfront and then demand more money throughout the process. They may hold your items for ransom, demanding that you pay them even more money to get them back. In more extreme instances, fake movers may pack your belongings onto their truck and vanish, stealing your items.

To help ensure you are working with a legitimate company and avoid getting scammed:

  • Research multiple companies. Be sure to check for a website, contact information, and a physical location. If none of these exists, be suspicious. For in-state moves, visit the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) website to find a licensed moving company. If you are moving from one state to another, check the US Department of Transportation (DOT) database for all registered interstate movers. You can view complaints, safety information and company contact information.
  • Research multiple companies and read reviews of the companies you are considering. Talk with friends or neighbors who have recently moved and ask for recommendations. Remember, don’t just rely on the reviews on the moving company website as those can be biased. It’s best to also read online reviews posted on verified consumer review sites, such as the Better Business Bureau.
  • Make an inventory of your belongings and ask prospective moving companies for written estimates.
    • If you are moving across state lines, interstate movers are required to provide you with a written estimate of all charges including transportation, “accessorial” and advanced charges. “Accessorial” charges are for services such as packing and unpacking and appliance servicing. Advanced charges are chargers for services performed, at your request, by someone other than the mover such as a professional, craftsman, other third party. This written estimate must be dated and signed by you and the mover and you are entitled to a copy of it.
    • If you are moving in-state, state law requires movers to prepare a “Bill of Lading” for every move, which details the goods carried and serves as your contract. Many legitimate moving companies will send a representative to inspect the home in order to provide a fair estimate, especially when moving the entire contents of a single-family home. If a company gives you an estimate without sending a representative to inspect the home in person, ask why. Both parties must sign the Bill of Lading, and the mover must give you a copy before loading your goods. Your mover may not change an estimate after loading the shipment.
  • Movers may not require you to sign blank or incomplete estimates. Unscrupulous movers could use the blank or incomplete estimate to change the terms of your move, including the cost, without your knowledge or consent. Make sure that when you do sign a final estimate or contract, it contains the mover’s name, address, license number and telephone number, as well as your contract information so the mover can get in touch with you. It should also include the loading and delivery dates, the declared or released value of the goods, and any storage instructions.
  • Consider moving insurance. Federal law provides for two types of moving insurance for interstate moves. The first is “full value protection” which covers the replacement value of lost or damaged goods in your entire shipment. It comes at an additional fee, and your mover can limit its liability for items of “extraordinary” value (items valued at more than $100 per pound). The second is “released value policy” which is often included in the cost of shipping, but covers goods at only 60 cents a pound.
  • Ask about whether a deposit is required. Many companies do not require a deposit, opting rather to receive payment upon delivery. However, it’s not necessarily a red flag if the company does request one. Watch out for how much is being requested and never pay with cash or wire transfer. Deposit payments made by credit card are the safest way to ensure you can get your money back in the event you’re being scammed.

Being smart and thorough when it comes to selecting a moving company can save you from the hassle of getting scammed and the financial burdens that come with it. If you do need to file a complaint, do so with the US DOT, Mass DPU, FTC and your local police department.

If you have additional questions, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation by calling our Consumer Hotline at (617) 973-8787, or toll-free in MA at (888) 283-3757, Monday through Friday, from 9 am-4:30 pm. Follow the Office on Facebook and Twitter, @Mass_Consumer. The Baker-Polito Administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation along with its five agencies work together to achieve two goals: to protect and empower consumers through advocacy and education, and to ensure a fair playing field for Massachusetts businesses. The Office also oversees the state’s vehicular and customized wheelchair Lemon Laws and Arbitration Programs, Data Breach reporting, Home Improvement Contractor Programs and the MA Do Not Call Registry.

 

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