We get it: Moving is a stressful time. There are already a million different things that you have to manage, from putting together a moving checklist to packing, finding a new home, figuring out paperwork, and saying goodbye to your family and friends. It’s a full-time job on top of your actual job. You don’t need another thing on top of your moving to-do list. And, yet, you do—because you know what the very worst thing that could happen in the midst of all of that busy-ness would be?
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Getting subjected to a moving scam. A moving scam is a simple bait-and-switch where a moving company – or someone posing as a fake or defunct moving company – takes your money but does not provide any moving services. (In some cases, a lighter moving scam might constitute someone ripping you off by taking a high fee and rendering a very basic service, or stealing some of your belongings.)
- It might seem like a lot of work, but making sure that you’ve done all of your research is a good way to make sure that you never fall victim to a moving scam.
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You can see why this might add stress to an already stressful time. If you’re subjected to a moving scam, you’re going to have to figure out how to get your money back, you’re going to have to figure out how to report the company so they can’t victimize anyone else, and you’re going to have to complete a lot of paperwork. At the end of the day, you might not be able to get your money back, leaving you penniless right before you move—which might mean that you’re no longer able to move at all.
Clearly, this is a bad situation. We’re here to help you make sure that it doesn’t happen to you. In this helpful article, we’ll help you go over 15 ways that you can spot a bad moving company or a potential scam before you become a hapless victim. Follow our strategies to avoid bad moving companies, too, and you’ll feel empowered to move through your relocation projects without any worries at all.
15 Ways You Can Spot a Bad Moving Company
Keep an eye out for these red flags and you won’t have to worry at all about getting taken for a ride:
1. Odd Deposit Practices.
It’s a common practice in the relocation field to put down a deposit to reserve your moving date. Typically, this is fine. However, a bad moving company or prospective moving scam might ask you for some weird things or manage things in a strange way. For example, typically, a good moving company will not ask you to put down more than a 20% deposit. If a company is asking for more than that, it might be time to walk away.
In addition, your deposit should always be easy for you to recover—even if your moving company says that deposits are non-refundable, the mechanic by which your company takes the deposit shouldn’t immediately render it non-refundable. Be aware of companies that don’t accept credit cards, or who say that non-refundable payment methods such as certified money orders, ACH transfers, or Zelle payments are mandatory. This could be a sign that your prospective moving company is preparing to take your money and run.
2. Describing Themselves as Movers, When They’re Really Brokers
When you’re planning your move, at some point you’ll need to decide whether you want to work with movers or brokers. There’s no wrong answer; either a mover a broker might be able to provide you the specific services you and your relocation require. However, it’s important that a moving company self-identifies as such (and that a broker tells you that they’re a broker). If they don’t have the right label or if they’re brokers but try to tell you that they’re movers, this could be a sign that they’re trying to confuse what they’ll be able to offer you.
It could also be a sign that they’re a very hastily put-together scam and they haven’t gotten their story straight! Fortunately, there’s a website you can check to help you suss out shady movers (who, you find out, are really brokers). Do your research – it takes time, but it’ll be well worth it in the end!
- Moving scam companies will be all about getting you to sign a contract before it’s time. Do your research first to make sure that there’s no shady business afoot.
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3. You Find Out that Your Movers Have Changed Their Business Name – A Lot
This is another grey area, because there are very reputable movers who change their company names on a yearly basis simply because that’s what’s best for their company. However, this constant changing philosophy could be hiding something underneath, making it more difficult to pin down this company (and harder for scam victims to work towards justice). Fortunately, you should be able to check your prospective moving company against your state department – for example, the Florida Department of State (if you are dealing with moving company from Florida).
Find out who the owner of the moving company is – the real owner, not the company name; the entity who owns the corporation and pays the bills. Then, check to see if that owner is affiliated with other moving companies, and check to see what the true reputation of those moving companies is.
4. Your Moving Company Hits You With a Lot of Random Extra Fees
Your moving company should be able to keep your pricing structure relatively simple: They’ll bid you a price per mile or a lump sum based on the mileage of your relocation project, and update the cost if necessary (e.g., if you had any particularly bulky or fragile items, or if you needed custom crating, or anything like that) at the end. Good moving companies do this for ease for both parties, as well as transparency.
Bad moving companies will bid you a low price at the beginning to reel you in, and then start asking you for more money for seemingly small or random services. If you’re having a hard time figuring out what your moving bill will actually be, or if your moving company keeps nickle-and-diming you, know that this is potentially a red flag. Your relocation company should make it very clear up front what you will owe (or a good, simple estimate regarding what you owe).
If your company makes this difficult in any way, it’s time to consider a different company. While you’re doing your research before you book your movers, check reviews that previous clients have left online to see if anyone mentions hidden prices or random fees.
5. Your Moving Company Has a Name that’s Just Off-Brand
We all know about Budget Van Lines, Allied, Two Men and a Truck, and other national brands. They have reputations, caches, and markets that are enviable in the relocation scene; and customers generally trust large brands like these without too much scrutiny.
Beware; there are moving scam companies out there who would seek to take advantage of this!
In order to steal some of the market or lack of scrutiny associated with one of the national van lines, a smaller, sketchy company might set up their name and logo to just resemble one of these national van lines (e.g., their name will be something like ‘Unified’, ‘We-Haul,’ ‘Budget Car Lines’, or ‘Two Men and a Trailer’). While parody can be funny, in this case it will most certainly not be. These companies are trying to get you to pay for their services without doing too much research – which will make it all too easy for them to take your money and run!
6. Your Moving Company Has Reviews that are Way Too Positive
One of the integral steps of doing research prior to hiring a relocation company is reading as many online reviews as possible. Here, you have to strike a balance. It might seem like finding a company with really great reviews is a good plan – but you don’t want to go with a company that has only great reviews, or excessively positive ones.
The fact of the matter is that even the best moving companies get negative reviews – in fact, you can expect that, and use that fact to determine whether a company is real or not. If a company only has positive reviews, that’s a red flag, and a sign that the company either might not exist or may have paid for fake reviews. When you’re investigating a potential relocation company, you’re going to want to read as many online reviews as possible.
Trawl through Google, Yelp, and more to see if you can find real-sounding reviews, including negative ones, before you sign up with a moving company. Another great strategy is to ask people in your community – friends, neighbors, family members – to see if they’ve worked with your prospective moving company. Reviews in person certainly won’t be faked!
7. Your Moving Company has Non-Existent or Invalid DOT and MC Numbers
Reputable, real moving companies will have numbers assigned to them by the Department of Transportation or other similar authorities. The United States has a database called the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration that allows you to look up moving companies by their names to get helpful information—for example, if their assigned numbers no longer exist.
- This how it should look if your mover has an active relocation company!
- Always check the information about your mover/broker
For example, inputting a normal moving company’s name into their database can allow you to pull info such as their address, the number of trucks they have, whether they can move household goods, whether they’re a mover or broker, their accident record, their insurance status, and more. This is all great information to have when you’re attempting to track down a moving scam.
- Make sure that USDOT number is always active!
- Always check the information about your mover/broker
8. Your Moving Company’s Website Isn’t Professional
In this day and age, everyone has a website. Companies that are reputable will have really good ones, ones that are kept up-to-date, and that work well and quickly on your computer and your mobile phone. If you find that this isn’t the case, it could be a red flag. Sketchy companies that aren’t in this industry to help you (they’re just after your money!) won’t invest in the customer experience. They’ll put up a cheap website as a facade to trick people who aren’t paying much attention. Don’t fall for it! Make sure that you’re impressed by the quality of a company’s website; it’s an excellent litmus test to ensure that you don’t fall victim to a moving scam.
9. Your Moving Company Provides You with a Too-Good-To-Be-True Moving Estimate
The ‘cheaper is better’ mindset has been ingrained into many of us for years, and, to some extent, this makes sense – we want to save money where we can, and avoid sinking too much money into projects when we could spend significantly less for a similar result. Unfortunately, there are companies who know about this popular mindset. As a result, they’ll seek to get your business by bidding you an impossibly low moving estimate – one that they know their competitors could never match.
After they get your business, however, they’ll either make off with your money or pack your bill with hidden costs to get as much money from you as possible! Always be wary when a moving company provides you with a very low estimate. A good strategy to combat this is to request at least three different local moving companies for their best moving estimate. Even if you don’t end up using their business, this is a good way to get a reliable feel for what’s out there, and a general fair price.
10. Your Moving Company Doesn’t Give You Straight Answers When You Ask Reasonable Questions
To a certain extent, your moving company needs to be able to handle any questions you throw at them. It’s natural to be curious about what’s going to happen during your move, and if you ask very common-sense, reasonable questions and they don’t give you answers, it’s a sign that they don’t have them! This is always a red flag. Moving companies should be very forthright (transparent, even) about their practices.
11. Your Moving Company Gave You a Blank Contract
Here’s a good rule of thumb: More information is better – and if your moving company gives you a document that should contain a lot of information and it’s conspicuously blank, that’s definitely not a great sign! Before you sign any contract, you need to make sure that it’s filled out with all applicable information. This will give you something to point to later in the event that your moving company starts to act in a suspicious way.
- A good moving company will weather any element to help you get where you need to be. A moving scam? Not so much.
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12. Your Moving Company Talks Too Much Without Listening
Here’s another good thing to remember: Your moving professionals are customer service agents as well as relocation experts. They should be all about hearing your story, the details of what it will take to do a good job for you, and any relevant experience or feedback that you may have. If this isn’t the case, be wary.
13. Your Moving Company’s Estimator Cancels or Reschedules Your Pick-Up Date
In most cases, you should be able to select your pick-up date to be convenient to your move; after all, you are the customer, and you’re paying for a service. Your company should offer you some kind of insurance against a last-minute cancellation, and that should only happen in a very serious scenario. If you’re dealing with a moving scam, this is very likely a red flag simply because the moving broker who is scamming you could not find you a mover for your date. As a result, you may have to resort to working with last minute movers, who may charge more for their services.
14. Your Moving Company Notes That a “Partner” May Handle Your Move
If you’re researching, getting an estimate from, and building a rapport with a certain moving company, you want that company to handle your move. You don’t want the people you’ve gotten to know to hand your move off to a third party that you haven’t vetted. As you’re going through your estimate and research process, make sure that you’re going to be able to book your move with the same moving company that you signed up with. If your moving company tries to resell your move to another that may not have insurance (or a ton of bad reviews), you could end up with a subpar moving experience.
15. Your Moving Company Subjects You To a ‘Phantom’ Delivery
Finally, one of the worst red flags of all results in you losing a large chunk of your belongings! With this adverse moving experience, you’ll go through the moving estimate and booking setup successfully. Then, a mover will come to your house, load your items into a truck, and promise to deliver them by a certain date. However, in this bad moving scam, you never see the mover again.
Clearly, this is neither an intended nor an ideal scenario. While you’re researching the moving companies you intend to consider working with, you’ll need to employ specific strategies to protect yourself from scams. Wondering what those strategies should be? No worries—we’ve got your back. In the next section, we’ll go over the five different strategies you can use to avoid moving scam companies.
Five Strategies You can Use to Avoid Moving Scam Companies
If you carefully do your research to see if you can recognize any of the red flags listed above, you should be able to avoid giving your money to a moving scam. However, we’d like to share a few pieces of extra research or other steps you can take in order to avoid any chance of getting taken for a ride.
- Ask around to see what the best long-distance moving companies are. If you know one thing for sure, you can trust people in your community to know what the good and bad companies in the area are! Moving scams won’t be able to influence what you hear via word-of-mouth, as they might be able to with online reviews. Start with moving companies that have been personally recommended to you by people that you trust.
- Reputable movers will go the extra mile to ensure that your items are taken care of, and that you get them delivered on time. A moving scam company will not be nearly as helpful.
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- Narrow your search before you start looking. For example, if you’re moving from California to New York, limit your search to cross-country movers; if you’re going to be moving a smaller apartment, limit your search to apartment movers. This will help you avoid moving scam companies who typically seek to appeal to as wide an audience as possible when conducting their shady business.
- Make sure that you have an expected window for all moving costs. Do your research up front, get multiple estimates from several different companies, and ask around to see what other people have paid: This is one of the best ways that you can ensure you don’t end up working with a moving company that’s going to try to charge you too much (or suspiciously too little) for your services.
- If you can, hire your own DIY moving truck. If you’re especially wary and you happen to have friends and family who can help you move, it may be a good solution to use a DIY moving truck for some or part of your moving experience. This way, you can be 100% sure that the items you move yourself are going to be safe.
- Get moving insurance before you do anything – or, at least, make sure that your moving company has moving insurance. This is expensive, so moving scam companies will likely not invest in this step. Moving insurance will also cover you in the event that a trusted moving company has a genuine accident with your belongings—again, an extra-mile type of step that a moving scam company will likely not offer.
If you’re looking to relocate to any state in the country, you should know that you have options to help you get precisely where you need to go. Here’s a brief overview of the type of moving services you might need in order to make sure that your move is as easy and efficient as it can be!
- Furniture Transportation: Moving your furniture is arguably the most difficult part of a move. Professional movers will plastic-wrap your furniture, pad it with furniture blankets, use dollies and more to move your furniture efficiently and safely to your new home.
- Piano Transportation: Pianos are heavy and bulky – and they’re also surprisingly delicate; if you bump one into a wall or corner, you risk ruining the entire thing! Fortunately, there are many movers out there who specialize in moving these instruments with supreme skill.
- Remember to do your research to stand the best chance of avoiding a moving scam.
- A person types on a laptop to do research about their upcoming move.
- Autotransport: Moving across a large body of water – or simply find that you’re not able to drive your car to your final destination? No problem. Read our handy article to learn everything you need to know about transporting your car safely.
- Art and Antiquities Movers: Your fine art pieces need some special TLC during your move, from low-light relocation environments to white-gloved treatment during the move. Search out qualified antiquities movers to make sure that you’re getting that treatment.
- Hot Tub Movers: Need to move your favorite relaxation space to your new home? Don’t try to figure out messy water lines and expensive equipment yourself; professional hot tub movers will do it for you.
- Pool Table Movers: Your pool table is made of several unimaginably large pieces that will shatter if dropped. Pool table movers will shoulder this burden (and, often, with insurance, the price if they do break it).
- Office Movers: Modular office furniture was made to be moved, but that doesn’t make it easy. Ask professional movers to help you with your bulky IT equipment, modular furniture, and more – all while minimizing downtime and staying under budget.
- Senior Moving: If you need additional time and care with your move, don’t be afraid to ask for it! Senior movers will take the time to make sure that you are healthy and safe during your relocation.
- Moving with Kids: If you’re moving with kids, then you know that you’re in a tricky situation. You’ll need to manage a lot more stuff – and you need to concentrate on making sure your kids are healthy and safe. Read our guide to make sure that you’re not forgetting anything as you take on this task!
- Moving with Plants (or Pets): Your plants and your pets are part of what make your home feel vibrant and alive. Make sure that they make it to your new home safely with our guide jam-packed with the best tips to make this work!
And there you have it! That’s all the more specialized resources you should need in order to make sure that your move is as easy as it can be! Just make sure that you do your research to make it safe, too. Remember: The more research you do up front, the less likely it is that you fall victim to a moving scam. Good luck out there, and stay safe!