moving scams Scams are an ever-present menace that have, unfortunately, become part of the backdrop of modern life. Although anyone can be scammed at any time, scammers love targeting individuals who are going through major life changes – be it an engagement, looking for new work or moving. Since it’s officially moving season, we’re covering exactly how scammers target those seeking to move and how you can protect yourself from them.

What kinds of moving scams should you watch for?

Scammers are pretty crafty and good at social engineering, making it hard to detect that something is amiss until it’s too late. Below are just a few of the ways you can get scammed.

Before you start …

When you start searching for a mover, you should be aware that you have a chance of crossing paths with either a scammer or a rogue moving company, both of which can cause you inconvenience and financial harm. While rogue movers will string you along through the moving process, scammers like those you’d potentially find on Craigslist could end up using your personal information to commit identity theft without providing any services. That’s why it pays to be cautious and avoid giving up personal information online, especially after brief correspondence.

When planning your move …

The most common moving scams involve rogue movers who, in most cases, will provide you service but rip you off while doing so. How do they accomplish this? There are several methods, but here are the most popular:

  • Shifting availability. If you find it hard to get the moving company to reliably commit to a date, it could be a sign that you’re, at best, dealing with a less-than-professional company. At worst, you could wind up paying money for movers that never arrive. Proceed with caution or look for another service.
  • Misleading estimates. While it’s possible for your estimate to be less than the actual cost, a number of unscrupulous movers will purposefully low-ball your estimate before pulling a bait-and-switch on you. The reasons they give could range from technicalities in the fine print to discrepancies in the amount of work they expected to do; regardless of the justification, no legitimate mover would provide a quote that’s wildly different from your actual out-of-pocket cost.
  • Mandatory, high-dollar deposits. If you have to pay a ton of money to a mover upfront before meeting them, you’re likely dealing with someone who’s going to play fast and loose with your money. It’s possible that a company might charge a processing fee or make you pay a modest deposit, but amounts that approach a large fraction of your total moving costs should be a sign that something is amiss.
  • Arbitrary fees and hidden charges. This isn’t mutually exclusive from any of the above points. Rogue moving companies like to nickel and dime customers, and besides deposits and bad estimates, hidden charges or arbitrary fees are some of the ways they can accomplish this.

After your move …

  • Shifting delivery window. Just like movers can shift their moving day availability, they might also shift the day they’ll deliver your goods, leaving you helplessly waiting for the movers to arrive with your belongings.
  • Withholding valuables. Sometimes, the failure to designate a delivery window can lead to this. People who find themselves in this situation potentially face extortion as dishonest movers can leverage customers’ belongings to get them to pay more money to get their stuff back – essentially, holding their items hostage and requiring more money as ransom.
  • Identity theft. If you’re not dealing with professionals, identity theft can happen at any point in your move, as moving provides devious workers a great opportunity to siphon personal information or steal sensitive documents. Another situation you’ll want to be aware of is like potential mail theft, especially if you don’t elect to hold or forward your mail immediately.

How can you protect yourself when moving?

Whether it’s a big move or a small one, if you plan to involve any sort of professional, considering the following tips can help protect you and your family when you move.

1. Thoroughly vet any movers you work with. This advice is first because it should be a given. Even though finding an affordable mover on Craigslist or through an ad on social media may seem like a good deal, you’re better off using accredited movers with a good reputation. Use sites like moving.org and protectyourmove.gov to find legitimate movers, and also make sure you verify the employee names, contact details and addresses of any businesses you talk with.

2. Cautiously share personal information. Be extremely careful about sharing your personal information over the web, especially if you haven’t fully vetted a company. While moving requires you to give up some personal information, this should happen after you’ve verified the company or individual helping you move. Finally, it’s also wise to make sure that you don’t share sensitive personal information over email or on a non-secure web page, especially if you’re connected to public Wi-Fi.

3. Submit a change of address to the U.S. Postal Service. As we noted above, forgetting to change your address and have your mail forwarded could lead to plenty of problems. Fortunately, the USPS makes it easy to set up forwarding online. At least 10 days before your move, you’ll want to have your mail forwarded to your new address. Then, once you’re settled into your new place, make sure the address on all your major accounts is corrected so none of your mail falls into the wrong hands.

4. Know your rights when it comes to estimates. To ensure that you get an accurate rate (and to deter scammers), you should understand what rights you have for receiving an estimate. There are two types of estimates, binding and non-binding, and the type you receive dictates your ultimate costs. Most importantly, you should never sign an incomplete or blank estimate – and try, if possible, to get an in-person estimate done for the highest accuracy.

5. Read all paperwork carefully. Moving paperwork is designed to protect you and the mover by establishing ground rules. Make sure you understand what types of liability the mover takes on and what rights and recourse you have if the movers are late or damage any materials. Look for mentions of hidden or extra fees, and make sure that all estimates are disclosed within the paperwork as well. Don’t sign “skinny” or partial contacts, and always keep a copy of everything you sign. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has additional details on your rights as a mover on its Protect Your Move webpage. Keep in mind that liability will likely work differently if you decide to use an app like TaskRabbit for a local move. It’s wise to check your own homeowner or renter’s insurance policy prior to a move, as well, to find out what it will cover.

6. Dispose or contain sensitive documents. During open houses or on the big day itself, you’ll want to stow sensitive documents so that no one can use them to commit identity theft against you.

7. Keep track of your stuff. Though it won’t prevent situations like your items being held hostage, knowing what you packed ahead of time so that you can keep inventory of what you own and where it is can make all the difference if issues should arise during or after the move. You might consider taking pictures as you go, or even video during the packing process.

8. Be present during the move. While you should feel secure that you put in the proper work to verify your moving company, you should still be around when the moving is happening. Not only will it be helpful if the movers need directions and instructions, but your presence might also deter bad employees from acting on any impulses (e.g., stealing). You can also ensure that you are witness to anything like the need for extra packing materials which might get added to your final bill.

9. Monitor your accounts. As we’ve allude to throughout this post, the moving process requires you to trust a number of strangers with access to your personal information, your belongings and to your home. Additionally, there’s the possibility that mail sent to you over the course of your move might get lost. Taking all of these different factors into account, it makes sense for you to monitor your most important accounts, like your bank and credit cards, for a few weeks after moving. Alternatively, consider investing in identity theft protection, which monitors for an extensive variety of information – personal identifying information, financial details, etc. – on black market sites, keeps you alerted to any changes in your credit reports, offers assistance in the event you become a victim of fraud and more.

For more information about avoiding scams of all types, keep reading our identity theft protection blog.