6 Tips To Avoid Moving Scams

The logistics of relocating are stressful and hectic enough. But what makes moving worse is the number of hustlers posing as moving companies and preying on the uninformed. They can disappear with your stuff, or hold it ransom for higher fees. It's prevalent enough that the U.S. Department of Transportation has a website for moving fraud.

Each year, about 15 million American families move to a new home, and most do it during the summer, according to Mayflower Transit. There are protections in place to keep movers from overcharging. For example, movers cannot legally demand more than 100% of a binding estimate for an interstate move, or 110% of a non-binding one. (For more details click here).

But crooks don't care what the law says. So it's critical to avoid problems before they start by avoiding problem movers. Here's how:

1Get referrals.
Ask your friends, family or real-estate agent for reputable movers. Search engines are not the place to start; scammers may have a beautiful website.

Disreputable movers may name or brand themselves after reliable ones. Make sure you don't get names mixed up. Check the names against MovingScam.com and avoid any that are blacklisted. (They have recommendations and reviews too.) The Texas Department of Transportation can also help you search for complaints about interstate movers and make sure they're properly licensed and insured. Also, check out complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau.

3Ask for estimates.
Get at least three in writing and if one is significantly lower, be suspicious. Also, they should want to see the furniture. Weight is a significant factor in the price and movers have a strong incentive to give an accurate quote -- they're going to be stuck with any binding estimate they provide. Skip anyone who demands to be paid up front or requires a substantial deposit.

4Understand the contract.
Everything should be spelled out, with no hidden charges. If you don't understand or agree with a charge, ask questions and see if it can be waived. Likewise, if you expect an expense they don't mention -- equipment, pads or boxes, for example -- ask why it isn't listed separately. Ask about the claims process for damaged goods.

5Check your coverage.
Speaking of damaged goods, make sure you understand the protection you have for your stuff. According to the DOT, movers automatically provide full-value protection, which requires the company to repair/replace damaged items or provide compensation. However, it doesn't apply to any item whose value exceeds $100 per pound (i.e., jewelry, silverware, china, furs, antiques) unless you specifically list them on the shipping documents. Unless you decline it, this coverage is automatic. It's not, however, free: You'll be billed for it. There is free coverage but it can be inadequate. Released value coverage provides only 60 cents per pound per item. As the DOT puts it, "If your mover lost or damaged a 10-pound stereo component valued at $1,000, you would only receive $6.00 in compensation."

6Watch for other warning signs.
For interstate moves, your mover is required by law to provide a copy of "Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move," a red handbook published by the DOT's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. If they don't offer a copy, ask why. Also be skeptical of unmarked trucks and cost estimates by size rather than weight and distance.

Most federal protections (and some of the advice above) apply only to interstate moves. If you're moving within a state, there may be different rules and resources. ProtectYourMove.gov has a list of moving resources by state, including links to relevant agencies like the state attorney general. Here are a few other helpful links:

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