Guest post by John Bisney, American Moving & Storage Association
The traditional busy season for moving in the United States runs from May through Labor Day, but not all of the estimated 35 million Americans who change residences this year will have a smooth move. A few will unfortunately have their worldly possessions “held hostage” by unsavory types known in the professional moving industry as rogue operators — imposters who are often actually criminals.
The results can range from frustrating to tragic. Such self-styled “movers,” who hide behind professional-looking websites to mask their phony operations, don’t live up to their promises. And as consumers become accustomed to shopping online, they frequently fail to realize that hiring a legitimate mover requires some checking. Snapping up a low price online, and doing so quickly, is fine when looking for a blender — but don’t forget that when you move, you’re inviting people you don’t know to put almost everything you own in a locked truck and drive away.
A common scenario has these con artists holding your household goods hostage unless you pay an exorbitant fee, often based on the claim that the shipment ended up weighing more than expected. It’s the last thing a customer needs during an often hectic life transition. Taking just a few minutes to check out a moving company before you decide to go with it will almost always prevent such headaches.
Here are five tips to help you avoid moving scams:
- Be wary of “guaranteed” estimates over the phone or Internet; instead, get at least three in-home estimates, and get them in writing. Show the mover everything you intend to take, including items in the attic, basement, garage, storage areas, shed, yard, etc., to ensure an accurate estimate, which you can ask to be binding.
- Read a prospective mover’s website thoroughly. Make sure the company has a physical address and a phone number. Ask to visit the facility if you have concerns.
- Be suspicious of carriers seeking large down payments, as you begin to lose your leverage in case of a dispute. Never sign any blank forms.
- Ask the company you are considering if it is the actual mover or a broker that will be turning your job over to a mover you don’t know. Some brokers are legitimate, but it’s important you know who will actually be handling your move.
- If you’re moving between states, federal law requires your mover to give you copies of three documents: the “Your Rights and Responsibilities” and “Ready to Move?” brochures, and information on the arbitration program the mover must participate in. Read them carefully. The U.S. Department of Transportation also hosts a website to provide additional guidance.
If you’re moving locally or within the same state, check to see whether the company you’re considering is a member of a state moving association (more than half the states have such organizations) or of the American Moving & Storage Association, the industry’s national nonprofit trade association. If you’re moving between states (or within California, Florida and Michigan), make sure your mover displays the ProMover® logo, the moving industry’s “seal of approval.”
To earn the ProMover designation, movers undergo an annual screening that includes verification of company ownership; a search of any related felony convictions of the company’s owners, officers or majority stockholders; and a review of each applicant’s website for improper advertising or claims. We also require a satisfactory Better Business Bureau rating.
By following these simple steps, you can easily avoid the problems that can accompany hiring someone who is a “mover” in name only.
About John Bisney and the American Moving & Storage Association
John Bisney is director of public relations for the American Moving & Storage Association, the nonprofit trade group for the full-service, professional moving industry. He was previously in media relations for the American Petroleum Institute, and was a long-time network radio correspondent based in Washington, D.C., covering Congress and politics. Like AMSA on Facebook or follow AMSA on Twitter.
Note: This is a guest post; the views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Redfin.