Avoid moving company scams
According to experts, a number of rogue moving companies advertise exclusively on the Internet and aren't locally or regionally based. "One mistake people make is choosing a mover off the Internet they don't know anything about," says Joe Harrison, president of the American Moving and Storage Association (AMSA), who warns against relying on over-the-phone and online estimates.
"What you don't want to do is use a company that's located 2,000 miles away from where you are. Insist on a [trained and experienced] estimator to do an in-home survey."
He also says that rogue movers are likely to say they are basing charges on the number of cubic feet in your shipment - rather than on weight and distance - which provides you with no way to verify the amount you will be charged. And while legitimate movers rarely require a significant deposit, scam artists often do, even for the smallest and least expensive of jobs.
Another problem is that some moving websites are operated by brokers who've been known to secure business only to turn it over to rogue movers. "They take your deposit and say they'll get you the best price," says James Balderrama, who founded www.movingadvocateteam.com after being victimized in 2001. He adds that brokers often avoid responsibility if things go wrong.
"'All we do is broker' - that's their excuse," he says. If you do decide to go with an Internet mover, ask to see the company's license issued by the DOT's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). And look for the same licensing on the paperwork and the truck. "A legitimate mover will provide that type of information to the customer," says Harrison. "A rogue mover will not."
Secure a good estimate
Local and relatively short-distance intrastate moves are usually priced by the hourly cost of labor, while the moving industry tariff specifies that rates for moves across state lines must be based on the certified weight and distance shipped, plus the amount of special services such as packing, long carries and third-party appliance work. Interstate movers also offer at least two different kinds of estimates that affect price: binding and non-binding. Many of them also offer a third option called guaranteed not-to-exceed (also referred to as "guaranteed price" or "price protection").
Binding estimates are written agreements that guarantee the cost based on a survey of the items to be moved and the services listed on the estimate sheet. Anything that is added later will result in increased charges. "A binding estimate gives you price certainty," says Harrison, "but the mover may try to protect himself and plug in a little more than normal to make sure he doesn't get cut short on price himself."
Non-binding estimates, on the other hand, aren't guaranteed. Instead, they are an approximation of the cost based on a survey of the items to be moved. The final determination, however, isn't made until after the goods are on the truck and weighed on a certified scale. With this kind of estimate, too, movers are allowed to collect 110 percent of the estimate at delivery. "You're required to pay the [remaining] balance in 30 days," Harrison explains, "but nevertheless, you'd get your goods."
According to FMCSA regulations, consumers are also entitled to witness the weighing of their shipment. This is not a bad idea, sources say, as some movers have been known to "bump" the weight in an effort to pad their paychecks. Divide the total weight by the total number of items in your shipment, advises Terry Judd, owner of Mr. Mover in Columbus, Ohio. It's worth raising an objection if the average amount per item is more than 35 to 40 pounds.
Harrison says that the last option, guaranteed not-to-exceed, actually gives the consumer the best of both worlds. It's a written estimate based on a binding estimate or on actual cost, whichever one ends up being lower. When discussing the estimate, be sure to also ask about payment options to avoid last-minute surprises. Many moving companies will not accept personal checks and not all of them accept credit cards. In fact, it is not unusual for them to require that the bill be paid in cash, by certified check or money order.