moving and storage scamsWhether you’re just wanting to move a couple of boxes or need to transport the contents of an entire house from one side of the country to the other, moving is certainly stressful. Sometimes you can get away with doing it all on your own, but often it’s necessary (or just more convenient) to hire a moving company to help. While we’d all like to hope that the people we do business with are honest and trustworthy, unfortunately, that’s almost never the case. Every industry has its scammers, and there are moving scams out there that plenty of people fall for year after year. This type of scam is particularly insidious because in addition to losing out on money, victims can wind up losing cherished belongings that can’t be replaced.

How can I avoid falling victim to a moving scam?

1. Do your research. Before you use any type of paid service, it’s good to use the Internet to research which companies are available in your area. You want to look at those within your price range, as well as those that seem to be used the most. You can also ask friends, family or coworkers for suggestions of moving services they’ve used in the past. Once you have a list of company names you’re interested in, research them individually. Make sure the company website has a local address and licensing information, and if you can, also look at the BBB page for the service (make sure to match the address listed on the BBB with the one given on the service’s website) as well as its reviews on Yelp.

2. Dig deeper. Unfortunately, you can’t always trust the first Google results you are shown. Many scammer companies have caught onto the fact that people perform online searches to determine whether to use their services or not, and so they often put out fake reviews to boost their perceived reputation. You might find multiple web pages hailing a moving company as the cream of the crop, but pay attention to the language used in the reviews. Many will be in poor English, which is a tell-tale sign that the reviews are fakes. If something doesn’t seem to add up, follow your gut and ask the service as many questions as you can.

3. Learn your rights. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has set up a website — Protect Your Move — which provides information about your rights and responsibilities as a moving customer, along with a database of movers that are registered with the FMCSA. It’s important to note, though, that only interstate movers are listed — so if you plan on doing a move within your state, you may not have much luck here. Regardless, this website is a good resource for you to use before, during and after your move. The site also has good information about the different types of responsibility your mover may or may not have toward your belongings.

4. Get an estimate beforehand. One of the biggest ways people get scammed when it comes to moving is being offered suspiciously low rates and then charged an exorbitant amount once the companies have taken possession of their belongings. Any moving company that refuses to perform an on-site estimate, in writing, should be garnered with suspicion. The best way to get an accurate idea of what your move will cost is for the moving company to see what you have — if it refuses to do so, you run the risk of having extra fees added on after your belongings are loaded up and on a truck (or, worse, held hostage in a warehouse somewhere).

5. Be wary of paying a large deposit or cash. Another common scam involves the movers requiring a large deposit or cash upfront. Either the movers don’t show up once the deposit has been handed over, or they disappear with your belongings after you’ve given them cash on moving day. Since you paid in cash, you have no way of proving how much they took. Your deposit as well as your payments should be made by check or credit card, giving you a way to track what you paid. Note that credit card is the safer choice, as you’ll have more protection in the event of fraud, according to the FTC. Any company that refuses credit card payments should be crossed off of your list.

6. Make an in-person visit. Since many moving scams are operated out of someone’s home or a hastily set up office, one of the best things you can do to ensure you’re dealing with a real, reputable company is to insist on coming to them. If a company doesn’t have an official office location where customers can stop by, that should be regarded as highly suspicious. It’s also an opportunity for you to ask in person whether there are any extra fees and find out about the company’s insurance policies. Finally, check out their vans or trucks — if they are unmarked, that’s not a great sign, since most legitimate companies will want to promote themselves on their vehicles.

Moving scams are easy to fall for because the stress of moving makes people who would normally be thorough and careful want to cut corners in order to get the process finished quicker. You might think you are lucky to be getting such a great deal, but the low estimate you’re promised could just be a scammer’s way to lure you in and take your belongings hostage until you pay them thousands of dollars. Taking the time to do your research and watch out for red flags will save you the headache and heartache down the road. Learn more about spotting and avoiding scams of all kinds by following our blog.