May is National Moving Month, which kicks off the busiest time of year for Americans changing residencies. It also means unlicensed movers and dishonest scammers are waiting to take advantage of unwary consumers. Better Business Bureau is joining with the American Moving & Storage Association (AMSA) to provide important tips on how to avoid moving scams now.
In 2012, BBB received over 1.4 million moving-related inquiries and more than 9,300 complaints against movers. Complaints included damaged or missing items, big price increases over originally-quoted estimates, late deliveries, and goods being “held hostage” for additional (disputed) payment.
"You can minimize the risk of experiencing a moving disaster if you take a few basic steps,” said Claire Rosenzweig, President and CEO of the BBB Serving Metro New York. "Know your rights and responsibilities when you move and check with BBB first before you find yourself paying thousands of extra dollars for damaged or lost items.”
"A con artist with just a truck and a website can claim to be a legitimate mover with unfortunate results for consumers who don’t check out a company in advance,” agreed AMSA President and CEO Linda Bauer Darr. "When it comes to such an important decision, you can save yourself a lot of problems by finding a mover who puts customer service and integrity first. For interstate moves, that means an AMSA-certified ProMover."
BBB and AMSA offer the following checklist for finding a trustworthy moving company: Research the company thoroughly.
• Check out movers at www.newyork.bbb.org
. The BBB has more than 17,000 Business Reviews on companies that provide moving-related services.
• All interstate movers must, at minimum, be licensed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. FMCSA assigns a unique motor carrier number that can be verified at www.protectyourmove.gov
• When moving within New York State, make sure that the mover is licensed by the Commissioner of Transportation. For verification call (800) 786-5368 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
.Get at least three written in-home estimates.
Not all price quotes online or over the phone are legitimate, and crooks are not likely to send an estimator to your home in advance. Also, remember that the lowest estimate can sometimes be an unrealistic, low-ball offer, which may cost you more in the end. Know your rights.
Research your rights with either the FMCSA for interstate moves, or with the New York State Department of Transportation for moves just within New York. Interstate movers must give you two booklets detailing your rights. Also, enlist the help of BBB or local law enforcement if the company threatens to hold your belongings hostage. Get an “Order for Service” from the mover before anything is loaded into the truck, or moved.
This gives you a dollar amount of how much you will have to pay at delivery in order for the mover to deliver all of your goods. Once your items are loaded into a moving truck, it is often impossible to negotiate about move pricing. Also be sure you understand expectations about tips for movers. Some unscrupulous movers may try to jack up fees or tips before delivering goods at the destination. If that doesn’t work, they might simply drive off with your belongings, store them temporarily, and attempt to charge you for inflated moving and storage costs – or even sell your property to resolve disputed charges. Read everything you sign.
And keep a copy of each document. Make sure that all moving charges are clearly detailed in writing, specifying exactly how the moving fees will be determined, including fees for items such as weight of goods to be moved, travel time, labor, and packing supplies, when applicable. Be aware that a Bill of Lading could be considered a contract, so never sign this document without reading it in full. Also, understand how much liability coverage the mover is responsible for providing under your agreement. For some moving destinations, you may need to get a Certificate of Insurance from the mover in advance. Consider accepting full value protection.
It may cost a few dollars more up front, but it can provide some peace of mind and eliminate headaches after your move. Purchasing full (replacement) value protection from your mover means any lost or damaged articles will be repaired or replaced, or a cash settlement will be made to repair the item or to replace it at its current market value, regardless of age. It’s important to note, for example, that the required minimum coverage of 60 cents per pound would not cover the replacement cost of a flat panel TV if damaged in transit. The cost of full value protection must be included in the initial estimate you receive for an interstate move. FMCSA requires interstate movers to offer arbitration to help settle disputed claims. Keep a detailed, extensive inventory of items you are moving
. This would be especially important if the mover is packing for you, and would be vital for documentation purposes if any items are lost, damaged, or stolen. Consider moving very expensive, lightweight articles yourself if this is an option. For very costly items that are included in the move, it’s a good idea to have independent verification of values and even separate insurance for those items. File a written claim with the mover for any loss and/or damage
. Some moving companies may hire third party negotiation firms to settle your loss or damage claim; such firms typically try to settle at the lowest possible dollar amount. Be prepared to substantiate your claims. Check your moving agreement carefully, before signing, to understand what your options might be if there is a disagreement about a loss or damage claim.
To check out a mover near you, and for more consumer information you can trust, visit www.newyork.bbb.org
, and AMSA’s www.moving.org
For more tips you can trust, visit www.newyork.bbb.org
, and to sign up for our weekly scam alerts, visit https://cbbb.wufoo.com/forms/email-sign-up/