The Department of Transportation receives 4,000 household moving complaints annually. The Better Business Bureau handles upwards of 9,000. And these numbers multiply every year, due to federal deregulation and lack of oversight in the moving industry. In fact, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a nine-person agency also overwhelmed with thousands of complaints, lacks the authority to step in on a consumer’s behalf when a moving incident occurs.

It’s incredibly difficult to try to recoup lost belongings. Instead, take preventative steps by choosing the right moving company. (We know we’re in self-storage, not the moving industry, but we think these guidelines will be useful to a lot of storage customers who are dealing with big moves).

Do Your Research
Ask for recommendations from friends and family. Check reviews on Yelp, Citysearch and MovingScam.com. Lack of customer communication, pickup and delivery delays, and dishonest price estimates are common red flags to avoid.

For instance, Yelp reviewer Igor G. wrote that All United Van Lines movers “don’t call to confirm prior to the move day” and “don’t show up on time.” When they arrived, they told him that “the actual moving cost will be 3-4 times your original estimate.”

When making a decision, avoid moving brokers as consumer protection laws don’t apply to them. Choose companies with local offices in your area. Your moving service should also allow you to personally pack up their truck. This lessens the possibility of damage to your belongings in the loading process.

Ask the Right Questions
Once you’ve narrowed down your field to three or four moving companies, it’s time to dig deeper. Visit each company office. Check out their storage facilities and truck fleet if possible. Make sure each truck is labeled with a company logo. Avoid movers that subcontract third-party truck companies or drivers. Choose companies that respond promptly to emails and phone inquiries, and willingly answer your questions. Gather crucial information— full company name, any “doing business as” (DBA) names, address, toll free and local phone numbers, DOT numbers, website, email addresses and references.

Ask a representative how much experience the packers and drivers have, whether they offer free storage, and what sort of  background checks they conduct on their employees. According to CBS Atlanta, Bulldog Movers employed convicted felon John Willie Johnson, who then stole $20,000 worth of belongings from a family’s home.

While movers don’t generally steal items, companies may end up losing them. Talk to your homeowner’s insurance agent to determine if your policy covers items in transit or storage. If not, ask whether an add-on package is available.

Utilize FMCSA Tools
Visit SaferSys.org, an FMCSA-run website, to investigate each company profile. Search by DOT number and verify that all of the information matches what the company provided you on their own. Ensure the movers have all the proper and updated legal authorizations. They should not be listed as “Out of Service” during any date range. They should be marked as “Authorized for Hire” under “Operation Classification,” and the word “Interstate” should be checked off under “Carrier Operation” if you want them to handle an out-of-state move. Under the “Cargo Carried” category, “Household Goods” should be listed.

SaferSys also allows you to check licensing and insurance information. Under “Authority Type,” the word “active” should be listed next to “Common.” The mover should have both “Cargo” and “Bodily Injury and Property Damage” insurance on file. You can also call the FMCSA Safety Violation and Consumer Complaints hotline to obtain the complaint history of each moving company.

Review Your Paperwork
Get an in-home cost estimate. If a company gives you a quote over the phone or online, the estimate is likely too good to be true. Ensure that the official company inventory of your items is accurate, so proper documentation is in place should they lose anything. Do not hire a company that gives you an estimate in cubic feet— ask for a weight-based price. You may also ask about any differences you notice in pricing, services and insurance coverage between the companies you’re looking at.

Movers are required by federal law to supply you with a booklet titled “Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move.” If they don’t, move on to another company. Your final contract should document the agreed-upon price estimate, a description of the type and quantity of belongings, the distance of the move, and pick-up and delivery dates, times and addresses. This came in handy for Jacki Skjegstad, an All United Van Lines customer. The company initially agreed to deliver her belongings at the beginning of July. As Skjegstad remains empty-handed nearly two months later, she is using her carefully documented paperwork to file a police report and move forward with legal action.

Let Skjegstad’s story be a cautionary tale. Something worth emphasizing again is that there is very little you can do to recover your belongings once they’ve been lost. Take these necessary precautions when contracting movers.

Want to discuss a personal moving or storage story? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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