Moving scams: Avoid the headache by checking consumer reviews

Last month we moved a house full of furniture in the least frugal way possible. We hired movers. But, we felt that we were justified in the expense due to a variety of reasons. First, we're getting older and no longer have friends or family members willing to sacrifice their Saturday for the promise of pizza and beer. Second, I've had chronic back issues throughout my 20s and 30s, so I can no longer move heavy stuff. So that just leaves my husband. And although he's pretty amazing, he is currently unable to move a house full of furniture with his bare hands and a Toyota Prius. But, I digress.

Once we chose to hire movers, we immediately thought of the moving company we used six years ago. They were reasonably priced at the time, after all, and they got the job done without incident. So I called them up and was quoted a rate of $159 per hour for four movers. In addition to that charge, I would also be responsible for an additional hour for transportation and a 10 percent fuel surcharge on my total. Fine.

I called around to get a few more quotes only to find that they were all about the same, give or take a few bucks. Ultimately, we decided to go with the movers we had prior experience with and paid a $100 deposit to hold our spot. During that same phone call, I went out of my way to confirm the charges once again. $159 per hour for four movers. An extra hour for transportation. Ten percent fuel surcharge. Uh-huh.

Moving Day

The day of our move arrived and we were up and at 'em early. And since we had already moved most of our possessions and clothing, we just had the furniture left. Unfortunately, the movers didn't arrive at our house at 8:30 as promised. And by the time 9:00 rolled around, I was getting impatient. So I called to see what was going on.

“Your movers will be there soon, Mrs. Johnson. But they'll only be two and it will be $129 per hour,” said the man on the phone.

So we kept waiting.

Three movers did finally show up at around 10:00 a.m. And after informing me that three movers would cost $139 per hour, they got started right away. The actual movers were fantastic, working quickly and efficiently as they loaded our house full of furniture. When it came time to pay, I quickly glanced over the bill and saw that I was charged for four hours of moving, one hour of transportation and a 10 percent fuel surcharge. The bill wasn't itemized, however, and I only scanned it quickly to make sure that I wasn't being charged for any additional items. And since I had originally budgeted $1,000 for movers, I wasn't shocked at all to see a grand total of $974.98.

Epic Fail No. 1

My house was a wreck and my furniture and belongings were stacked here and there, all over the place. What I should've done was break out a calculator (or my cell phone) and added up the bill myself. But, I didn't. In a frantic and exhausted haze, I told them to charge the balance on the card I used to pay the deposit and I went about my business. But once I took a closer look at our bill later that night, I discovered that the numbers didn't add up.

Our move took a little less than four hours, which means that I should've been charged for five hours plus the fuel surcharge. So, $764.50. After dissecting the bills for hours, I couldn't come up with any explanation for the $974.98 they came up with. So the following Monday I called the moving company to ask for a refund. Unfortunately, they weren't having it.

Mrs. Johnson, your bill is correct. You're just adding it wrong,” they kept telling me. As our conversation continued, the customer service rep became strangely hostile. When I asked for a manager, he hung up on me.

I called back a few times and finally convinced them that I had been overcharged. However, they only agreed to refund about $100 and said they were keeping the rest as a “packing materials charge” that they had failed to mention beforehand.

“But, don't you have to list charges like that on my bill?” I asked.

“Beeeeeeeeppppp.” That is the sound of them hanging up.

Epic Fail No. 2

And that's when it happened. I hopped on the computer to file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. But first I did a quick Google search to see what, if anything, I could dig up. What I found was shocking.

Five seconds of searching led me to a variety of online review sites, all with terrifying reviews. Customers were overcharged. They were lied to. Their possessions were held hostage. And when they called for a resolution, they were yelled at and hung up on. It all sounded eerily familiar.

Once I made my way to the BBB website, I also discovered that they had lost accreditation altogether. Unlike the A or A+ many businesses have, this particular moving company was sitting pretty with a D+ (the BBB rates businesses on a scale of A+ to F). It was ugly.

Obviously, I should've researched the company ahead of time, even though I had used them in the past. It had been six years, after all, and a lot can happen during that time.

Failing to use the free resources available on the Internet was my first mistake, according to Manuella Irwin, a relocation specialist who writes for MyMovingReviews.com.

I reached out to Manuella and her site to see what I could learn and to uncover any potential advice for readers who may find themselves in a similar position. According to Manuella, the moving industry is rife with all kinds of scams. Here are a few of the most common:

  • Giving a low-ball quote: Dishonest movers often give customers a low-ball quote in order to book business. Then, once the move is already underway, they'll hit customers with additional charges that weren't disclosed ahead of time. “Extra” charges added after the fact can include charges for stairs, the removal of appliances, waiting times, bulky items, multiple stops, and packing materials.
  • Giving estimates over the phone: The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires interstate movers to execute a survey before issuing an estimate. By federal law, if your home is located in a 50-mile radius from mover's place of business, the moving company is required to base your estimate on a physical survey of your household items, unless the consumer waives the requirement in writing.
  • Bait and switch: One of the most common “bait and switch” moving scams involves movers refusing to honor a quote after the truck is already loaded. In those cases, it's common for movers to cite the weight of a customer's items as the culprit.
  • Possessions held hostage: When customers are hit with hidden charges, they're often outraged. Since overcharged customers may be unwilling to pony up the extra dough, movers have been known to take possessions hostage until they're paid.

Moving Scams on the Rise

Although that last one might sound outrageous, it's actually much more commonplace than people realize. In fact, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration just shut down five moving companies in one week for holding customer shipments hostage.

And according to the BBB, moving scams are still a huge problem, despite the many consumer protections that have been put in place over the last decade. According to a recent press release, the BBB received over 1.4 million moving-related inquiries and more than 9,300 complaints against movers in 2012. That's a lot.

But, even though the moving industry may be prone to scams, there are still plenty of ways to protect yourself. The U.S. Department of Transportation's ProtectYourMove.gov is a treasure trove of information for those who want to steer clear of predatory movers. The site is full of advice for consumers, including these simple steps for those searching for a reputable company for their move:

  • Check out the BBB profile of movers you are considering as well as their complaint history at ProtectYourMove.gov.
  • Ask for recommendations from family and friends.
  • Get written estimates from at least three movers so that you're able to compare all costs and fees.
  • If you're moving to a new state, check to see whether the interstate mover is registered with FMCSA, and has a USDOT number.
  • Ask if your mover has a dispute settlement program.
  • Find out what types of insurance are available and take special care to adequately insure your belongings, if necessary.

As is usually the case, a little research done beforehand can go a long way. If I had spent even five minutes investigating the company we chose, I would've run for the hills. Lesson learned. I'll also check and double-check any bill that I'm presented with in the future, even if I'm exhausted or in a hurry. Some companies are institutionally dishonest, but sometimes people are just bad at math. I've learned that you should always double-check, even if you think that the intentions of people are good.

Thanks to the Internet, consumer reviews are all over the place. With the click of a mouse, you can find out the good, the bad, and the ugly, as well as whom to trust and whom to avoid at all costs. And there's no reason not to check. I've learned that and I hope that this story serves as a cautionary tale of “what not to do” when you're getting ready to hire out a big job.

Do you read company reviews ahead of time? Have you ever wished you did after the fact?

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DM
DM
6 years ago

I would also call the credit card company you used to pay the bill and let them know what happened. They can issue a chargeback.

Holly@ClubThrifty
6 years ago
Reply to  DM

Yes, that is exactly what we did. Chase gets a bad rap but their fraud department is actually excellent. I filed a complaint with them and they did an investigation after I sent them a copy of my bill. They called the company several times and said they never got a straight answer about what the additional charges were and why they weren’t on the bill. Chase refunded me the amount I was overcharged and now they’re disputing it with the moving company’s bank. I put the move on my credit card for convenience (and paid it off immediately!) and… Read more »

Beth
Beth
6 years ago

Ohhh, I didn’t know that either! Thanks for sharing your story — I’ll certainly be more cautious next time I move and I’ll bet other readers will too!

Jason
Jason
6 years ago
Reply to  Beth

I recently tried a charge back with Chase on a company that did air duct cleaning. The company overcharged me on every duct, didn’t do the cleaning correctly, and had sent someone out to my house that couldn’t speak clear English. After calling the company a few times and them not doing anything, I called Chase to do a charge back. During their investigation Chase couldn’t get a clear explanation. However, since I signed the invoice that was handed to me when the service was done, I was obligated to pay it. For anyone who is concerned that your bill… Read more »

Kay
Kay
6 years ago

This sounds like a total nightmare and I’m really sorry you had to go through it. I agree with your advice–it’s a great idea to check out BBB before hiring people for a manual service (moving, plumbers, yard work, etc.). And always get all the charges written up ahead of time so you know exactly how much you’re paying. That’s what I did when i moved last time; I visited the movers’ headquarters and went through step by step what they would charge and why, so there was no dispute over a bill. What a mess. I’m sorry you had… Read more »

Matt YLBody
Matt YLBody
6 years ago

I didn’t realize there were so many moving scams out there. What worked for me once when it came to finding some people to move was going down to the local Home Depot to pick out a few people eager for work. They worked hard and they were very nice.

Brian@ Debt Discipline
[email protected] Debt Discipline
6 years ago

I do try and read reviews or get references from family and Friends when using a new company or service. Since you had used them before and had no issue I would have not done my homework the 2nd time.

Becky @ RunFunDone
Becky @ RunFunDone
6 years ago

Oh man, we just moved this month, all by ourselves (well, ourselves + family), and it was AWFUL. Moving always is awful, and I always think about how great it would be to hire a moving company. Your story made me feel much better about going through the painful process of moving ourselves…it’s not fun, but at least we didn’t get scammed!

Carly
Carly
6 years ago

Ouch, sounds like a rough experience, I sympathize because the same thing almost happened to me. Last year we moved twice in four months (once to storage and then on to our house) and used movers because my wife was pregnant and I certainly wasn’t going to beg favors of our friends to carry heavy old furniture into a uhaul, get it into a storage unit, and then beg the same favor when we moved permanently. So I called a few moving companies and interviewed two of them. One was cheaper by almost $100, and the guy claimed he could… Read more »

Kelsie
Kelsie
6 years ago

We haven’t had to use movers yet, but I’ll definitely keep this in mind!

Liz
Liz
6 years ago

My sisters have both very successfully used the franchise 2 men and a truck in several cities over the years. If you can rent your own truck, sometimes they’ll load and unload for you and just charge for the men’s time, since you don’t need their truck.
Both sisters tell me the companies have always overestimated how long the move will take so the bill is LESS than the estimates.
One sister’s latest move involved the fun of Pennsylvania construction, tunnel closures, and a large detour, and it was still under the estimate…

Rose
Rose
6 years ago

We had a multi-hour delay moving to our first house. My husband & I both have serious back problems, so we can’t move everything ourselves any more, though we still carry plenty of boxes. Furniture, no more. The only thing that finally got the idiots to show up was that I drove my husband to the moving company’s office, and he went in and talked to the owner. My husband, though he is actually a gentle soul with a PhD in English literature, happens to look like a refugee from the Hell’s Angels. No tattoos or grubby colors, but he… Read more »

SLCCOM
SLCCOM
6 years ago
Reply to  Rose

Can I borrow him? I bet he could make a mint doing that for a percentage of the money owed.

jacqueline
jacqueline
6 years ago
Reply to  Rose

I think you have a great biz idea there! Rent DH out for a percentage of the owed service/money!

Vincent
Vincent
6 years ago

We moved recently using folks found through movinghelp.com. The site lists multiple moving companies, many with large numbers of reviews. I chose a highly rated company and was pleased with how everything turned out.

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
6 years ago

When I moved across the country I also had a terrible experience. Any future long-distance moves I will hire people to load and unload the truck (or PODS), but not let them put things on a truck they own. Then they’ve got your stuff!

Carla
Carla
6 years ago
Reply to  Honey Smith

But in that case don’t you have to drive the bulky truck hundreds or thousands of miles? The best part about hiring someone to move my ex and I 700-800 miles was being able to drive our comfortable car.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
6 years ago

Wow, that’s terrible. Can’t the charges be disputed via CC? Even if it’s a debit card, if you used Visa/MC/etc there should be a procedure for situations like these. I’d ask the bank.

Carla
Carla
6 years ago

After a nightmare incident 10 years ago, I vowed never to move myself again and I haven’t. Owning heavy (real) furniture, hundreds of books (at the time) other heavy household accessories, I figured it would not be fair to talk friends into moving and risking injury and damage, especially since most places I moved to and from had stairs. I also love the idea of moving withing a few hours rather than an entire day and then some. I never had a bad incident even after having moved 8 times in 10 years (the life of a renter). Though my… Read more »

Kristin Wong
Kristin Wong
6 years ago

What a nightmare! Sorry, Holly. I’d have helped you for the pizza and beer. 😀
But yeah, this is a good reminder to research companies before giving them money. You should do the same thing with potential jobs. It sounds common sense, but I have a friend who gets scammed by job offers a lot because he applies first, and then does research.

Babs
Babs
6 years ago

Good post, Holly! Some good advice here.

Richie @ Practical Cents
Richie @ Practical Cents
6 years ago

Wow, I never knew there were so many moving scams out there! The last time my wife and I moved, our brother-in-law helped us with the move, along with another person he recommend to us. This person used to work moving furniture for a large store, so he was very experienced. We hired him to help us and it was a great decision. His experience with moving really helped us to save a lot of time and money. Thank you for the advice on making sure you research the company (especially the company’s BBB profile) before hiring them. I’m sorry… Read more »

Rose
Rose
6 years ago

Good post – thanks for sharing your experience – it will help others!

One of the best websites I found when I was moving across the country was http://www.movingscam.com/ It had all the information from the protectyourmove.gov site plus the forums were pretty informative with customer reviews. I liked it better than yelp for checking out a company – at least for a interstate move.

Mom of five
Mom of five
6 years ago

When I was in my mid twenties, I was 5 foot 3 and about a hundred pounds. For the first time in my life I was going to pay movers so I didn’t owe anybody any favors. I had been quoted a price over the phone. On moving day as two very large moving men were standing there in my new apartment, I was quoted a new price that was a $150 higher than what I’d been previously told. They told me I must’ve been confused. After a brief conversation with them, I knew darn well I hadn’t misinterpreted, but… Read more »

nicoleandmaggie
nicoleandmaggie
6 years ago

Great post!

Tara @ Streets Ahead Living
Tara @ Streets Ahead Living
6 years ago

We got hit with an extra per person tip $50, 3 guys, but in all honestly, they were so quick and efficient that I didn’t mind the high value of the tip. I knew a tip was necessary, I just didn’t realize it would have been higher than 20%. But hiring movers is the only way to go in my opinion, unless you’ve got some great family members.

Laura
Laura
6 years ago

Also consider a membership to Angie’s List. I got one last year – bought the longest one, I think it’s 4 years, and used an internet coupon for 50% off the join fee. Now if I need to hire someone, I check Angie’s List AND the BBB AND general online reviews such as Yelp. Sometimes there are discrepancies between all of these, but usually you can get a good lay of the land. I haven’t had to move out of state, but if I did, I think I would take Honey’s advice to rent my own truck and hire people… Read more »

PennySaved
PennySaved
6 years ago

At my previous condo a few years back, a new resident (young woman in her 20s) moving in got caught in a scam- she hired movers over the Internet. They moved in a few things, then would not move the rest until she paid the bill first. They wanted twice the amount they had originally cited to her. They claimed the belongings weighed more than estimated or something like that and they were waving around a pink weigh bill. The resident would not pay them and they would not unload until she paid. She called her brother to come and… Read more »

imelda
imelda
6 years ago
Reply to  PennySaved

That is so brazen!! They didn’t even budge when the police were there!?

Shannyn
Shannyn
6 years ago

SUCH excellent advice. I am obsessive about this type of stuff usually, but in my early 20s I was moving locally (in LA) and decided I would call the same company I had used the previous year in the bay area, because I had such a great experience. What a mistake! The Southern California branch must be completely separate, because I had the movers show up late, take several (30+ minute) breaks to chat on their cellphones and ignore me and my stuff, and then hold my stuff hostage upon move-in. They tried to charge me triple my quote, citing… Read more »

Trace @ Independence Investor
Trace @ Independence Investor
6 years ago

I was reading this article and felt my blood pressure rising. I immediately flashed back to Mid 2012 with our cross country move. My wife did some initial research and selected a smaller moving company based on ratings from one web site. The company provided an estimate of $6,800 to do a 1,000 mile move. I began working in the new city and scheduled the movers for a specific date. I flew back to my original house the day before the move date. The moving company shows up the next day in a small “rented” non branded truck. They walk… Read more »

Amber
Amber
6 years ago

That is exactly why I prefer to have family and friends help me move rather than hiring a company to do it. Great post!

Randy
Randy
6 years ago

I would rather move a whole house by myself then hire a moving company. I’ve heard too many horror stories about things “disappearing”.

Jordan
Jordan
6 years ago

I had a similar problem in which the moving company quoted me a much lower price before the moving date, and once half of my belongings where loaded on to the truck they let me know that they were going to have to charge me more money. They also tore a huge hole in my leather couch and damaged several other items.

Joshua
Joshua
6 years ago

I’m sorry to hear about your bad experience! I have never hired a moving company so I don’t have any stories to share. My friends have been the ones helping me out through my moves. Paying with beer and pizza is so much easier than a few hundred bucks. Great article!

Kevin
Kevin
6 years ago

We had a NIGHTMARE of a moving experience in 2012 moving across the country. I also learned the hard way to check reviews before going with a company. We were told it would take a week to get our items from Arizona to Nebraska. Literally, 18 BUSINESS DAYS later, our items showed up. Things were dented, disgusting, and broken. WORST experience I’ve ever had.

nicoleandmaggie
nicoleandmaggie
6 years ago

Here’s my problem. I did my research on the internet, checked for complaints, etc. But there are only like 3 companies around here that do inter-state moves, and each one had complaints filed against it. So, screw it, I just guessed and picked one. It turned out ok. But checking with the BBB, etc., doesn’t always help if there aren’t a lot of companies to choose from!

Anne Burner
Anne Burner
6 years ago

Perfect timing on this post! I’m moving next month and had just started researching movers. Gonna use all these tips!

Shirlee Berman
Shirlee Berman
6 years ago

So sorry for your bad experience, Holly. As you mention in your article, stories like this are much too common! That’s why we started MovingCompanyReviews.com (MCR) this year. We are laser-focused on helping consumers through the confusing process of vetting moving companies so that more people can have more happy moves. Also, all of the reviews on MCR are 100% verified so there are no fakes, which can also be a problem with online review sites. Thanks for doing your part in educating the public! We are rolling out a new feature to our site where we will display a… Read more »

imelda
imelda
6 years ago

Wow, an entire paragraph to justify hiring movers? I’m single so maybe it’s more of a no-brainer for me, but still. If you have the money, you hire movers!

I was also going to mention that you could dispute this with your credit card company; very glad to see that you did so, and successfully!!

Carla
Carla
6 years ago
Reply to  imelda

Yes, Imelda, I can see dedicating an entire paragraph to justify hiring movers. If she didn’t list the reasons I sure there would have been a few comments chastising her for not simply grabbing a few friends and paying them pizza to do it.

As if everyone has friends/family that happens to be available, that happens to be able to move heavy objects, that happens to be able to move without damaging items and that would want to get paid with simple carbohydrates for a job that you normally would pay real currency for.

Holly@ClubThrifty
6 years ago
Reply to  Carla

You nailed it, Carla!

=)

Daisy
Daisy
5 years ago

Wow, this is the complete nightmare! I was moving once to Oklahoma and I’ve had a broken TV and I was so mad, but this… this is just unbelievable!

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