2 easy ways to avoid falling victim to a San Diego moving scam
When consumers recently booked moves with a California moving company, they thought they were getting a good deal.
What really happened, according to investigators, is that the moving company – operating under six different names in four California counties – used a bait-and-switch scam: They lured customers in with low estimates and then demanded more money after the customers' possessions were loaded into trucks. If a customer balked at paying the extra costs, the movers held the possessions hostage until they received payment.
After a four-year, multiagency investigation that included the FBI, involving hundreds of consumers, eight people were indicted early in 2013 in San Jose and face felony theft and fraud charges.
This is an all-too-frequent scenario, as rogue movers – those operating fictitious businesses posing as household movers – prey on vulnerable consumers looking for the best deal for their moves.
San Diego in the top 10
San Diego ranks among the top 10 U.S. cities for complaints against interstate household movers, according to Protect Your Move, a government organization created to provide consumer awareness and advocacy. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPU), which regulates and oversees local moving companies, continues to crack down on illegal moving companies.
Within the first three months of this year, CPU issued cease and desist orders to 13 companies, fined nearly a dozen others and ordered businesses to return $13,000 to consumers, who were overcharged. Still, these unscrupulous movers are preying on vulnerable consumers. They will be most prevalent during the height of the moving season, which continues through September.
While CPU regulates moving companies that work within the state, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, regulates more than 5,800 household movers who handle interstate moves. It received more than 3,100 complaints in 2012, but authorities think the number is much higher, because consumers – embarrassed by being scammed – are reluctant to file a complaint.
These fraudulent companies know that when people move, stress levels are higher, especially if the move is related to a job relocation, a job loss, divorce, death or other life changes. So, when people see an estimate for $8,000 from one company and $4,500 from other, it’s easy to see how a consumer will elect to go with the lowest estimate.
Avoid a scam by checking these two websites
What’s most frustrating for those of us who operate professional, licensed businesses, is that it’s so easy to check a company’s credentials. What most people don’t realize is that all household movers have to be licensed. Confirming a moving company is licensed and in good standing is as easy as going to a single website. For moves within the State of California, go to cpuc.ca.gov. If you’re moving outside of California, go to Protectyourmove.gov. Both sites list every licensed mover. Plus, you’ll get tips on how to avoid getting ripped off.
Some red flags to look out for when hiring a mover:
- Don’t book a move online or over the phone without first verifying the company is licensed and has a physical location. Don’t just take the company’s word for it, drive to the location to confirm it’s a legitimate moving company.
- Most moving companies charge by the hour for an in-state move, and charge by weight and distance for an interstate move. Rogue movers, however, often charge by the cubic feet.
- Estimates are most accurate when the moving company sees your home or office, sees the items that will be moved and the layout of the space. Don’t accept an online or over-the-phone estimate if you’re moving more than two rooms. If the company says it doesn’t need to be onsite, that’s a big red flag.
- When comparing estimates, make sure you understand what fees are included in the estimate. Unscrupulous movers are notorious for adding on exorbitant fees for moving supplies after the items have been moved into the truck. When we provide estimates, the fee includes shrink wrap and specialty moving blankets to help protect furnishings. You need to know up front what’s included and what’s not included.
- Don’t agree to pay up front or a deposit for the move. Licensed movers don’t charge consumers until the move is complete.
What’s astounding is that people often will spend more time researching which TV to purchase than they do researching the company that they will trust with all their worldly possessions.
There are plenty of resources available to help consumers make the best decision, whether it’s reading reviews from other consumers on Angie’s List, checking the Protect Your Move website or getting information from the California Public Utilities Commission. Doing just five minutes of homework may end up saving you money and protecting your possessions.