Hands tied up with rope

You’ve packed up your household belongings, and the moving company has loaded up practically everything you own for the journey from Houston to Denver. But once you arrive in the Mile High City, you learn that you can’t get your stuff unless you cough up an extra $760. Surprise! Your possessions likely are being “held hostage” by a shady mover.

While numbers are hard to come by regarding how many people are victimized in this way, it’s safe to say that many of the thousands of complaints lodged each year against moving companies involve “hostage situations.”

The Better Business Bureau describes these shady practices like this: “Consumers and the moving company agree on a price to move personal belongings. At the end of the move, the movers demand extra fees and hold the belongings hostage unless the fees are paid.”

Under federal law, interstate movers are required to give your belongings to you when you pay 100 percent of the costs in a binding estimate or 110 percent of a non-binding estimate where additional weight or services have caused the final costs to rise, according to InCharge.org.

So, what should you do if you’ve been scammed in a “hostage situation”? Here are six tips.

1. Complain to the Moving Company.
Be sure to file a written complaint with the moving company if you’ve been ripped off in a hostage scam. It may not fix the problem, but at least you’ll have written evidence of your complaint.

Woman on phone

2. Call the Cops.
You should notify local law enforcement “if the moving company fails to live up to its promises or threatens to hold your belongings hostage,” according to the Better Business Bureau. However, MoveRescue.com says, cops can step in only if a local or state law has been broken.

3. Contact Government Regulators.
For a state-to-state move, reach out to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. For an in-state move, reach out to whichever state agency regulates moving companies or to your state’s consumer protection department.

In the case of an interstate move, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration can impose a fine of up to $10,000 a day against a moving company that holds people’s items hostage, according to media reports.

The federal motor carrier agency does take action against movers that hold customers’ possessions hostage. In December, for instance, the agency shut down five moving companies—in Florida, Maryland and South Carolina—that had engaged in “hostage” activity.

4. Notify the Better Business Bureau.
The Better Business Bureau tracks complaints about both interstate movers and in-state movers. While the bureau may not be able to resolve your dispute, your complaint at least could prevent someone else from being ripped off by the same mover.

life preserver

5. Check Out MoveRescue.com.
MoveRescue is a consumer assistance service aimed at stopping disreputable interstate movers. It’s backed by a network of U.S. law firms, along with moving companies United Van Lines and Mayflower. The service offers legal advice and general guidance to people who’ve been victims of hostage scams and other moving fraud. To get help, visit MoveRescue.com or call 888-368-7238.

6. Do Your Homework.
This actually should be your first step so that you can avoid the five other steps we’ve outlined.

First off, research moving companies you’re thinking about doing business by visiting websites like BBB.org and Moving.org. Any moving company you hire should be licensed and insured. Another online resource is MovingScam.com, which lists moving companies that it has endorsed.

Also, be sure to get written estimates from at least three moving companies; an estimate should be drawn up a representative of each moving company has visited your home.

“It’s unfortunate how people can be taken advantage of during a very stressful time like moving,” said Vee Daniel, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau in Greenville, SC. “Sadly, it happens, so it’s important to do your homework and seek a reputable company you can trust with your personal possessions.”

For more moving advice, visit the moving tips section of SpareFoot.com.

  • Ken Susman

    This happened to an aunt of mine about ten years ago. When we asked for stories of crummy movers over at Online Self Storage Directory, I was blown away at how often it happens. Be very, very careful when you choose movers!

    • Ken Susman

      By the way, she eventually got all of her stuff back, but it was NOT easy.

      • Brunilda Turbides

        I have a similar problem with a moving company that’s holding my belongings in the Bronx, this is how the whole thing started me and my daughter had started to relocate on December 13, of last year to Bakersfield California then after finding out things didn’t go as planned with the area in California, we decided to go back to Boston on December 22,2014 now I m back home but still having a hard time getting my belongings back this situation is debilitating my health one because I m disabled and two I can’t be sleeping on an air mattress because of my health, my daughter owes a balance of 1,599.65 in order for them to deliver my belongings tomorrow will be thirty days, but they can only hold my belongings for 45 days if no payment is made they will auction off my belongings which by the way their tariff and contract says the samething, I was going to sue the movers but on what charges. And how would I get my belongings back how, my daughter has been speaking to someone from moverescue, I just pray and pray for a miracle, I just want my belongings back safe and in one piece, my brothe is working on getting a discount from these movers God has to make a miracle happen some how some where I know something good is going to happen I just pray it happens soon so my life can get back to normal once again and my health can improve, this has been tormenting me a lot. I m just waiting on a huge miracle today on my daughter’s birthday I pray. If anyone reads this please have some compassion and sympathy over my situation today and please keep me in prayers.

  • http://vidFame.com/ Wolfgang Gabler

    We have this problem here. Today the guy from the moving company arrived and told us that we would have to pay $2.000 additional fees for our delivery tomorrow because our elevator is too far away. Actually the elevator is not more than 150 feet away… they came up with a strange calculation and presented it to my wife that they would need to go this way at least 30 times and only the first 75 feet shall be free. So this would end up in $2.000… We informed them that we will not pay this fee in any way and will take any legal action necessary. Such a fraud! Let’s see what happens tomorrow…

  • Regina

    Anybody have problems with ABF trucking?