Real estate brokers are relied on for more than just writing transactions for buyers and sellers. One of their value-added services may be providing helpful resources pertaining to their clients’ relocation to help protect them from scams.
Moving scams are so prevalent that two major moving companies collaborated to form a help center for victims. That resource, called MoveRescue, was started in 2003 by Mayflower and United Van Lines as a no-cost advocacy service. It offers resources and representatives to help consumers who believe they’ve been scammed by a fraudulent mover. It also provides helpful information on understanding the moving process, industry practices, how to find a reputable mover, and steps to take if victimized by an unscrupulous mover.
Another source of useful information is the Better Business Bureau, whose investigative studies show scams occur most often with interstate moves. Based on an average of 13,000 moving-related complaints and negative reviews it receives each year, BBB says dishonest companies can create financial and emotional nightmares for unsuspecting consumers.
COVID-19 led to the emergence of even more shady practices, according to the Better Business Bureau. Demanding substantially higher fees after loading or transporting goods, having unreasonably long (or extended) delivery windows, holding items hostage for additional charges, and delivering damaged goods are the most common complaints. (Overcharging tends to be the most common complaint.)
Consumers should be wary of unethical and illegal business practices by moving companies. Red flags include:
- Holding property hostage until the consumer pays more. It is illegal for movers to charge more than 110% of the estimate before delivery. It is illegal to increase the price after goods are loaded.
- Not offering full value replacement liability protection; the standard released value liability protection pays 60 cents per pound, not on the dollar value of an item.
- Lies about delivery dates, location and quality of the workers.
While the vast majority of movers are trustworthy and care about reputation and customer service, there are exceptions, relying solely on a quick internet search to find a mover is risky, the BBB cautions, adding “Do careful and extensive research to ensure you are dealing with a legitimate mover.” Three important steps that should be taken are:
- Get three in-person or virtual estimates based on weight, not cubic feet; and
- Opt for full value replacement liability insurance; and
- Check with the BBB and the professional moving associations (e.g., American Movers & Storage Association and the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration).
The FMCSA website has information for people planning a move, including downloadable checklists. For interstate moves, federal regulations require movers to give consumers two brochures, “Ready to Move,” and upon agreeing to hire a move, “Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move.”
Additionally, before hiring a mover, make sure the company has a physical address, not just a post office box, and uses vehicles with their company logo. Obtain in-person quotes or video conferencing technology to walk an estimator through your home and possessions. Fees should be based on weight, not volume. Make sure the company accepts credit cards and requires only a small upfront deposit.
Legitimate moving companies compete on price, professionalism, and reliability, and they’re licensed. Most of them are members of trade associations that require adherence to professional standards, such as the American Movers & Storage Association.
Other resources are the American Trucking Associations’ (ATA) Moving & Storage Conference ProMover certification program, which is designed to fight imposters or “rogue operators,” and Certified Moving Consultants, experienced professionals who have met industry education and training requirements.
Realtors should encourage their buyers and sellers to do some careful research from the Better Business Bureau and moving industry associations so they can avoid the heartbreak, stress and financial consequences of a scam. On the BBB website, consumers can view a business profile for BBB Accreditation status, rating, reviews, and complaints or alerts on businesses.