Renting a U-Haul and hiring friends with the promise of pizza and beer usually isn’t enough to lure anyone to help move anymore (was it ever?).
Instead, internet searches ensue to locate reputable and cost-effective moving companies.
Unfortunately, many search results return less than reputable businesses that claim “5 star” or A+ Better Business Bureau ratings.
And many of these companies abscond with your belongings or hold them hostage for more money.
On my move from Michigan to Wisconsin this summer, my family and I were victims of moving fraud.
My experience taught me, and now you, how to best avoid being a moving fraud victim:
- Rely on a credible referral for a moving company;
- Require an in-home estimate and inventory;
- Obtain a price-lock guarantee;
- Pick better reputation over a better price;
- Do not trust a broker or moving company that requires cash;
- Use the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Checklist: (oig.dot.gov/investigations/household-goods-moving-fraud);
- Review the Department of Transportation Office of the Inspector General (“OIG”) website on moving fraud (oig.dot.gov/investigations/household-goods-moving-fraud);
- Trust your gut.
Movers cannot make you pay more than 110 percent of a non-binding estimate upon delivery.
And they must return your goods when you pay 100 percent of a binding estimate.
Know these signs of a moving scheme:
- The broker/mover breaks commitments before the fact (“Truck broke down; see you tomorrow”);
- The moving truck has no license plates, is unmarked, or rented;
- The truck is obviously too small;
- The mover insists your property was undervalued, and doubles or triples the estimate.
Some movers may purposefully damage or “mislay” items.
Others may hold your shipment hostage, which alone violates federal law.
Even in the midst of fraud, you may feel pressured or have a deadline to leave your home.
Consider staying put until you contract with a reputable mover. If need be, advise your realtor or landlord of your problem.
Damages for not timely vacating may be less expensive than the extortion fee.
Avoid heated arguments with the mover. Call the police if you feel threatened or danger. Moving scam fugitives (oig.dot.gov/wanted-fugitives) may be armed and dangerous.
If you unfortunately become the victim of moving fraud, you do have remedies.
First, document everything that happened and inventory (and photograph) all items missing, damaged, or being held hostage.
Keep all relevant documents for your records. Then:
Request immediate relief from the mover/broker in writing (use Certified Mail).
Contact your insurer, bank and credit card company.
File an administrative complaint with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
File an administrative complaint with the federal Department of Transportation (DOT)’s National Database or call the Office of Inspector General (OIG)’s Fraud Hotline.
Determine whether the contract requires you to participate in arbitration or mediation. Consider filing a civil lawsuit.
If you have been a victim, know you have recourse and there are people available to help guide you in seeking the relief.