For countless Americans, the month of May signifies a major transition in their lives.
Whether it is graduating from high school or college, starting a new job or receiving that highly anticipated acceptance letter, May marks the beginning of the busiest time in the nation for moving, so much so, that the month was designated National Moving Month in 1997.
In 2022, 41% of all business inquiries on BBB.org for moving companies occurred from May through August, and more than 15,000 complaints were filed with BBB against moving companies throughout the year. In 2022, 27.3 million Americans moved, which is a 4% increase from 2021.
While there are many reputable moving companies, with the amount of moving activity during summer, the potential of being a victim of a moving scam or negative experience also increases. There are several versions of moving scams reported to BBB every year, including:
— Consumers receive a quote and pay a deposit, but the movers never show up.
— The moving company provides a quote based on expected weight, and after loading the truck, the company informs the consumer the load is over the expected weight and an additional fee must be paid. Most of the time, the additional fee is significantly more expensive per pound, sometimes as much as double the original estimate.
— The most disruptive and difficult to anticipate moving scam is when everything appears to be going well. The movers provide an estimate, arrive on time and load your belongings on a truck. However, this is where the interaction turns disastrous. When the truck fails to arrive at its destination, either your belongings are gone, or the company requires the consumer to pay an additional fee to deliver them, holding the possessions hostage.
BBB recommends consumers follow these guidelines to help secure a smooth moving experience:
— Check for a BBB Business Profile. Visit bbb.org to check a company's BBB rating, length of time in operation, responsiveness to complaints and/or customer reviews that may have been filed in the most recent three years, and more. You can also use BBB's website to find a list of accredited moving companies near you.
— Watch out for warning signs. When reviewing a company's website, if there is no address or information about a mover's registration or insurance, it is a sign that it may not possess the proper policies to protect a consumer's belongings. Additionally, if the mover uses a rented truck or offers an estimate over the phone prior to conducting an on-site inspection, it may not be a legitimate business.
— Be wary of unusual requests. If a mover asks for a large down payment or full payment in advance, that may indicate a fraudulent business. If an individual's possessions are being held hostage for additional payment not agreed upon when the contract was signed, contact BBB or local law enforcement for help.
— Verify the company's license. When moving between states, check licensing with the U.S. Department of Transportation. All interstate moving companies require an identification number issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which can be verified at ProtectYourMove.org. If you're moving between two cities in the same state, the company should have an active intrastate license, which can be confirmed with your state.
— Get everything in writing. Make sure to read the terms and conditions of the contract carefully, including the limits of liability, and any disclaimers. The pickup and expected delivery date should be easily identified.
— Keep an inventory of your belongings. An inventory sheet should be provided by the mover at the time your items are packed and loaded. You want to confirm that it matches your inventory, and the same sheet should be presented at the final destination to verify all contents have been unloaded at your final destination. In addition, BBB recommends you create your own inventory ahead of the move. If you are packing your own items, be sure the boxes are numbered and labeled with the contents inside. In general, movers are not liable for lost or damaged contents in customer-packed boxes unless there is provable negligence on the mover's part. Taking photos of the contents before packing is a great way to prove if damage was incurred during the moving process.
— Ask questions. Do not be afraid to ask questions about anything you don't understand. If the moving company can't or won't answer your questions, look for another company. Trust matters when hiring a moving company.
You should always transport your most valuable and delicate items yourself to avoid any issues during your move. If you find yourself involved in a possible household goods moving fraud and are unable to resolve it through BBB or local law enforcement's assistance, you can reach out to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's National Consumer Complaint Database online or toll-free at: 888-368-7238.
You can also report an allegation of household goods fraud to the Office of Inspector General's fraud hotline either by completing the office's online hotline complaint form, calling 800-424-9071, or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more moving tips, you can visit BBB's moving HQ. You can also reach your BBB at 423-266-6144 or by email at email@example.com.
Michele Mason is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga.