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Jim Winsett of the BBB.

Q. My family will be relocating this summer. What advice may BBB provide on the moving industry?

A. May is National Moving Month, which kicks off the busiest time of year for Americans changing residences. It also means unlicensed movers and dishonest scammers are waiting to take advantage of unguarded consumers. Better Business Bureau (BBB) wants to provide important tips on how to avoid scams and have a safe, secure move.

According to BBB, movers and moving companies are one of the top categories of companies searched on the BBB's website. Over the past year, consumers across North America have searched over 1.4 million times and 9,256 complaints about movers and moving companies were registered with BBB. Common complaints included damaged or missing items, invoices that were higher than estimates, late deliveries and, in some cases, goods held hostage for additional payments.

Before you hire a moving company, be sure to do careful research so relocating doesn't turn into an expensive nightmare. The following are typical scams reported to BBB every year:

* Consumers get a firm quote and pay a deposit; but the "movers" never show up.

* The moving company quotes a price based on weight and after loading your items on the truck, they inform you that your belongings went over the estimate and the additional weight will be a lot more per pound (sometimes double).

* In the case of the most egregious twist on the scheme, everything seems to be fine. The movers quote a price, arrive on time, and load your belongings on a truck. But when the truck doesn't show up at your new home, either your belongings are simply gone forever, or are being held "hostage". Demanding that you have to pay another fee before scammers will deliver them.

Take the guesswork out of moving; BBB offers the following tips for finding a trustworthy moving company.

Do your research. Look up Business Profiles for moving companies on The American Moving and Storage Association (AMSA) also identify movers that have pledged to uphold high standards of trust and to resolve complaints quickly. Note the length of time a company has been in business and read customer reviews from previous moves.

Verify the mover's claims, credentials and professional memberships. 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 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. Scammers and fly-by-night operators won't be able to substantiate a good reputation.

Get it in writing. Get three written estimates from movers based on visits to your home. Though professional movers do give quotes over the phone, it's still a good idea to get written documentation of any and all services you expect to receive. Also, remember that the lowest estimate can sometimes be an unrealistic low-ball offer, which may cost you more in the end.

Talk about the money. Find out how and when payment is required. Many companies require up to a 10% deposit to secure your moving date and require payment before your belongings are delivered. Find out what your payment options are and what method of payment is available. Whenever available, use a credit card for payment as you have more options for disputing a charge if something should go wrong. Do not pay with cash. Let your bank know that you are in the process of relocating in the event they notice increased or unusual charges on your credit card.

Prepare for damage. Even though trustworthy movers are trained to handle your belongings and your home with care, it is difficult to move an entire household without some damage. Be sure to inquire about inadmissible and non-protected items, such as hazardous materials, jewelry, currency and others. Determine what is covered under your homeowners' insurance policy and what is not covered under your replacement valuation protection. If you are arranging for other workers to be in and out of your home, consider documenting the conditions before and after access, in the event any property damage takes place.

Protect your possessions. 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 current market value, regardless of age. Make sure that your mover provides full-value protection insurance for any lost or damaged possessions. Note, insurance is by the pound, so expensive items such as a flat-panel television that doesn't weigh very much may need additional replacement cost coverage if damaged in transit. Find out what your household insurance will cover during a move.

Take your valuables with you. Cash, coins, jewelry, photographs, and important papers should be taken with you or shipped separately using a shipping service with tracking numbers and insurance.

Consumers can check for free BBB Business Reviews companies that provide moving-related services, or for interstate moves turn to to find an AMSA-certified ProMover.

Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga