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December 6, 2023

8 Expert Tips on Avoiding Common Moving Scams

Reviewed By: Diane Anderson, MBA SHRM-SCP SPHR, Director of Safety, Atlas Van Lines

two men moving boxes out of Atlas Van Lines truck

In 2019, nearly 31 million people moved — with over a third of those choosing to hire professional movers to do the job for them.

Reputable movers offer peace of mind through their proven track record of reliability, professionalism, and the protection of your belongings. On the other hand, disreputable movers may lure you with impossibly low prices. So when hiring the pros, how do you know if a moving company is legitimate?

By taking a few early precautions and knowing what to look for, you can make smart decisions and avoid common moving scams.

Moving Company Scams to Watch Out for

Unfortunately, there are always people looking to take advantage of others — and some of them have gotten very good at it. Before you decide to hire a mover, be on the lookout for a few red flags that could signal trouble ahead.

The Low Quote

If a quote seems too good to be true, chances are that it is. Disreputable companies may make you an offer you cannot refuse in the hopes that you will not. But when moving day arrives, your movers and your deposit are nowhere to be found.

Get a few different quotes from reputable moving companies. If one company is offering an impossibly low quote compared to the other companies, you should be very wary of them.

You Aren't Offered Two Types of Moving Contracts

Reputable moving companies should offer customers two types of moving contracts: binding and non-binding estimates.

A binding estimate is a contract that specifies a fixed cost for your move. This means the moving company commits to charging you the agreed-upon price, regardless of any unforeseen circumstances that may arise during the move. It provides price certainty and protection against unexpected expenses.

A non-binding estimate is an agreement where the moving company provides an estimated cost based on the weight of your belongings and the services required.

However, this estimate is not a guaranteed price, and the final cost can change based on the actual weight and services performed. It allows for flexibility but can lead to uncertainty in costs.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires moving companies to provide written estimates, which must be either binding or non-binding, as part of their compliance with federal regulations. Failure to offer these contracts can indicate noncompliance with the law.

Scam moving companies may attempt to pressure customers into accepting only one type of estimate, often a non-binding one, to make it easier to increase costs later. Having the option of a binding estimate protects you from such tactics.

Requiring a Deposit

While a small percentage of moving companies may request a deposit, the majority of them will not. Instead, you will be asked to provide payment upon final delivery and completion of services.

Payment upon completion of the move ensures that customers only pay for the services once they receive their belongings and all logistical aspects have been completed.

Honest movers provide upfront and honest estimates. They avoid hidden fees or unexpected charges, so customers are less likely to cancel or change their plans, reducing the need for deposits.

Frequent Name Changes

When a moving company changes its name frequently, it can signify attempts to evade negative reviews, complaints, or legal issues. Scam companies often use this tactic to continue their fraudulent operations under a new identity.

Frequent name changes make it difficult for customers to track the company's history or reputation. It becomes challenging to hold such companies accountable for any negative impacts during the move.

To avoid falling victim to scams, research the company's history. Check how long it has been in operation under different names. When looking through their reviews, make sure they have recent and older reviews to show an established history.

You can also look into their "Page History" section on social media platforms to see how long the account has existed and if they have changed their name. Legitimate companies tend to have a consistent track record.

A Low Profile

If you find the name of a mover that seems generic, or if it is hard to find any information about them online either through a website or reviews, chances are something shady is afoot and they should be avoided.

Reputable moving companies have a host of information that can be found, such as an established website, reviews, accreditations, a physical location, and recommendations on forums.
moving scams infographic
Courtesy of American Southwest Credit Union

A Moving Contract Missing Information

Never sign a moving contract that does not have every blank spot filled in. A moving contract should include the complete contact information of the moving company and your moving details, such as their legal name, physical address, phone number, estimated moving costs, and delivery date.

If any of these details are missing, it may indicate an untrustworthy or fly-by-night operation. The contract should clearly outline the payment terms, including the total cost, payment methods accepted, and any deposits required. A missing or ambiguous payment section can lead to unexpected costs or payment disputes.

Reputable moving companies also provide liability coverage options to protect your belongings during the move. A contract missing information about liability coverage leaves you vulnerable to potential damage or loss without proper compensation.

The contract should specify the services the moving company will provide, such as packing, loading, unloading, and transportation. If it lacks a detailed description of services, you may not receive the assistance you expect.

A reputable moving contract should include a delivery date or, at the very least, a delivery window. If this information is missing, the moving company might not have a clear plan for your move, which can cause delays.

An absent or vague cancellation and refund policy can leave you in a difficult position if you need to change your plans or cancel the move for any reason. Clear terms are essential to protect your interests.

Any potential additional charges, such as fees for stairs, long carries, or storage, should be clearly detailed in the contract. A missing section on additional charges can lead to unexpected expenses.

Sight-Unseen Quotes

Sight-unseen quotes are often based on rough estimates and assumptions. Without a proper assessment of your belongings, there's a high risk of underestimating the volume and weight of your items, leading to unexpected costs on moving day.

Some disreputable moving companies may provide lowball sight-unseen quotes to attract customers. Once they have your belongings in their possession, they may demand significantly higher fees, holding your items hostage until you pay.

An on-site or virtual inspection provides an opportunity to ask questions and address concerns directly with the moving company representative. With sight-unseen quotes, you may not have this chance to clarify details either.

The Mover Doesn't Provide a Federally Required Document

The "Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move" booklet is required by federal regulations, specifically by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) for moves.

It outlines the rights and responsibilities of both you and the moving company, ensuring transparency and compliance with the law.

This booklet is designed to protect consumers like you by providing valuable information about the moving process. It covers topics such as estimates, insurance, claims, and dispute resolution.

If a moving company refuses or fails to provide this document upon your request, this is a red flag. It may indicate that the company is not compliant with federal regulations or is attempting to withhold critical information from you.

How to Find a Reputable Moving Company

older couple carrying moving boxes

Check with the ATA

The American Trucking Association (ATA) is an industry organization that represents private van lines and independent moving companies. In 2020, the ATA created a Moving & Storage Conference to advocate for safety and security within the industry.

It’s important to note that not all high-quality, reputable movers are members of the ATA Moving & Storage Conference, but if they are, you can be sure they are dependable.

Ask the Right Questions

When determining what the best moving company is for you, you will need to ask some specific questions to avoid moving scams. Some suggestions:

  • How long have they been in business?
  • Are they licensed, insured, and bonded?
  • Can they provide references for previous moves?
  • Are they able to provide federal and state Department of Transportation license numbers?
    • Pro-Tip: If a company will provide you with its licensing numbers, visit the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration website. Here, you can confirm that the moving company has provided accurate details about its size, address, history, insurance, and licensing.

Research Reviews and Complaints

Comb through reviews from previous customers on Google, or through sites like Yelp and Facebook. While community-based review aggregators are not always 100% reliable and could be filled with falsely positive reviews for the company, they should be able to provide a general snapshot of what you might be getting yourself into.

Ask Your Network for Recommendations

Most people know at least one or two friends or family members who have moved with a professional moving company.

Reach out to your network either in person or on social media to ask for recommendations from people whose opinions you can trust and count on.
man typing on a keywoard
Check with the FMCSA before hiring a moving company.

Looking for a reliable and trustworthy moving company to handle your relocation? Look no further than Atlas!

With a proud history of delivering professional services since 1948, our dedicated agents are readily available to provide you with crucial information, including insurance details and FMCSA registration numbers upon request.

Connect with your local Atlas agent or request a free quote to discover more about our trusted and professional moving services.