Q: My family is planning to move at the end of May, and we've heard horror stories of movers who keep your stuff for ransom. Does the BBB have tips on what to look for when hiring a moving company so as not to end up in that situation?
A: 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 (BBB) is again joining with the American Moving & Storage Association (AMSA) to provide important tips on how to avoid scams and have a safe, secure move.
In 2013, BBB received more than 1.7 million moving-related inquiries from American consumers looking for movers, and also received more than 9,300 complaints against movers in the U.S. Complaints that included damaged or missing items, big price increases over originally-quoted estimates, late deliveries, and goods being held "hostage" for additional, often disputed, payments.
Consumers can check bbb.org for free BBB Business Reviews on more than 17,000 companies that provide moving-related services, or for interstate moves turn to moving.org to find an AMSA-certified ProMover.
BBB and AMSA are offering the following tips for finding a trustworthy moving company:
Research the company thoroughly. While state regulations vary, 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 protectyourmove.gov. Also make sure you know whether you are dealing directly with a mover, or with a broker (middleman) who will refer your job to a mover you don't know.
Get at least three written in-home estimates. Not all price quotes online or over the phone are legitimate (or binding), 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 appropriate state agency for moves just within that state. Interstate movers must give you two booklets detailing your rights, which are also available online. If a company threatens to hold your belongings "hostage," enlist the help of BBB or local law enforcement.
Consider accepting full value protection. It may cost a few dollars more, 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 also requires interstate movers to offer arbitration to help settle disputed claims.
To check out a mover near you, and for more consumer information you can trust, visit bbb.org, and AMSA's moving.org
Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau of Chattanooga.