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.”

John is a freelance writer and editor. He first moved to Austin in 1999, when downtown Austin wasn't nearly as lively as it is today. John's loves include pizza, University of Kansas basketball and puns.


  1. 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!

      1. 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.

  2. 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…

  3. I am having an issue with my movers. I relocated from Pennsylvania to Florida. I received a binding estimate from the movers and when they came to my house in Pennsylvania and loaded my items they told me it would cost twice the initial estimate. I had no choice at the time but to use them due to my flight leaving the following morning. I have been in Florida for four months and have been unable to make any payment due to not having enough funds and a few difficulties financially. My items are in Brooklyn NY and they are threatening to auction my property of which are all I have and a lot have sentimental value. I have offered to make payment arrangement and pay what I can, but they want the full payment. I can’t afford to lose my property or replace them. Some of the items belong to my son whose currently serving in Afghanistan and would hate to have to tell him his stuff is sold by the movers. Currently looking at a balance close to $6000. I would appreciate any assistance with this matter. Thank you I am dealing with Olympus Moving and Storage.


  4. I lost my home in New York to a bank foreclosure. I have two children with disabilities and none of my family live in New York. I needed to move to St Louis, Missouri where my family live.I contracted with Public Moving and Storage on June 19. I had been assured they would handle everything for my families moving other then our personal items. I asked several times if there were any other hidden charges since I am a single mother on a tight budget, was told this was my total, then paid a deposit of $1,840 by credit card on June 19. 2017. I was scheduled to move June 30, 2017. The day of the move Public Moving called saying they had over booked and asked if I would change days to Saturday July 1 in exchange for a $200 reduction in my rate. As soon as the movers arrived, in a rented Enterprise moving truck, they started adding to the amount due. When I called the company I was told since it was Saturday no one could help me. I tried to cancel but they had my deposit which they would keep if I canceled. I saw the minimum they would move was 600 cubic feet and asked to be reduced to that amount. They refused. We settled for them moving 1000 cubic feet with no extra’s, such as mattress bags and television packing. I was informed they needed cash payment for half of the remainder $1,445, which I paid. They took 4 dressers filled with light, fragile items, that were important to us such as pictures and items my children had made since we were told we could leave light, fragile items in dresser drawers. They took a clothes washer, dryer, dishwasher and a free standing freezer as well as 16 boxes filled with my children and my possessions. They were to hold these for 60 days then deliver. I started calling at the end of August to get a date for delivery but was told they had between 4 and 21 business days to deliver goods. I called every week trying to get my belongings. The often would put me on hold for long periods of time, once for an hour and a half, then disconnect my call or send me straight to voice mail. I was told on Oct 18 my belongings were being loaded and would take 7 to 10 business days for delivery. I was to expect a call giving me notice a few days before delivery. Three business days later, Monday Oct 23, I received a call saying my items were to be delivered the next morning at 6 am. I was not going to be in town until Oct 26 and told the man I would take delivery Friday October 27. This morning I called Public Movers at 8:07 am central time, and was told no one could talk to me about my property at this time but they would call me later today. I waited until 3:39 pm and called them back only to be told I am not listed as a delivery for next week and that there was no one who could talk to me until Monday Oct 30. I have since called back only to either not have my call answered or to be told someone would call me back and they never call. I have to block my number from showing or they do not answer my calls. Today I spoke with a representative who told me they arrange deliveries on Fridays and she would call me back after their meetings. I doubt that will happen. She said my belongings are still in New York.

    I am a single mother with disabled children. I truly need our belongings. It is getting cold and our winter clothes are in those boxes. We need our appliances and dressers, they contain memories that I can not replace. Please help if you can.

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