More than 36 million Americans moved in 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau — which bumped up to one-in-six in the first half of 2013 according to SpareFoot. While many of those moves ended well, others became a nightmare.
More than 9,300 complaints against movers were filed with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) in 2012. Complaints included hefty price increases over original estimates, missing items, and goods held hostage until additional payment was made.
Whether you’re shifting items to a new home, apartment, or self-storage unit, the key to avoiding a relocating disaster begins before moving day. “You can enhance your chances of a good experience by doing your homework,” said Steven Weisman, a professor at Bentley University and founder of Scamicide.com, which offers information on scams.
Here are seven moving scams to watch for–and avoid.
1. Low Estimate, Inflated Price
The most common scam is the bait-and-switch tactic, said Jeff Walker, president of MovingScam.com, a website that provides moving tips and resources for consumers.
To lure you in, the rogue mover offers a low-ball estimate for moving your household. When moving day arrives, you’re told the load is larger than originally estimated and the final price will be much higher. What began as a $2,000 move could turn into a $4,000 bill-or even more. In addition, the scammer often refuses to deliver your load until full payment has been received.
Before moving, check for complaints filed against a company. If you see comments regarding low-ball estimates followed by high charges, consider it a red flag, Weisman warned.
Movingscam.com has message boards where you can ask questions regarding certain companies. Also check with your local BBB or visit the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Safety and Fitness Electronic Records (SAFER) website.
2. Lost Items
During a move, valuables like jewelry and antiques might “disappear.” Items also could get damaged.
To eliminate headaches after the move, consider buying full value protection from your mover, the BBB suggests.
With this plan, anything damaged beyond repair during the move will be replaced, said Mitch Curtis, a spokesman for Gentle Giant Moving Co., based in Somerville, MA. Anything lost also will be replaced.
3. Extra Charges
Even if a rogue company honors the amount originally quoted for transferring your goods, it may look for other ways to inflate the final price, Walker said. It might charge hundreds of dollars for moving supplies, such as packing tape, shrink wrap and bubble wrap.
To avoid this, understand the quotes you’re given before you move, Walker said.
You’ll usually receive two estimates from a company. One will cover the cost of moving your goods, and the other will quote the packaging involved, said John Tract, director of operations at Transit Systems Inc., a moving company based in Wayne, PA.
4. Over-the-Phone Estimates
Not all quotes over the phone are legitimate, and crooks are unlikely to send an estimator to your home in advance, according to the American Moving & Storage Association.
If you base your final decision on a phone estimate, you won’t meet anyone from the company until moving day, said John Bisney, a spokesman for the American Moving & Storage Association. Also, the price of moves often is based on the weight of your goods, a factor that can best be determined in person.
To avoid scams, the association recommends obtaining at least three written in-home estimates before making a decision.
5. Eyebrow-Raising Hourly Estimates
For local moves, like moving goods from a self-storage unit to a nearby home, movers usually will charge an hourly rate, Tract said.
Two companies might look at your belongings and estimate the move will take eight hours. Another might say it will take four hours.
The final cost will be based on how long the move actually takes, Tract explained. If you receive an estimate for very few hours, ask the company why it charges so little. You may find the estimate–especially one that’s much lower than others–is unrealistic.
6. No Brick and Mortar
A scammer might not have an actual company or truck, Bisney said. When looking online, make sure the company has a street address and phone number clearly listed on its website. If the only way to contact the company is by filling out an online form, stay away, he recommended.
7. Large Deposit
A mover may ask for a small amount of money in advance, such as $50, to reserve a particular date for your move.
However, requesting a large deposit upfront is a red flag, Bisney said. Reputable companies ask for payment when the service is completed, such as when your goods are delivered.
If you’re asked beforehand for a large amount, like $500, “just say ‘no,'” Bisney said. Then go with a different mover.