Moving is a team effort, and it’s important to make sure everyone involved is honest, hard-working, and ready to play their part on Moving Day. Whether you’re relocating your business to the suburbs or moving your family across the country, you’ll depend on your movers to make sure all your stuff arrives on time and intact. Commercial moves involve confidential files, essential computer equipment, and other items that you need to keep your business running. If you’re moving to a new home, you’ll be putting your whole life in the back of the moving truck, including your clothes, furniture, and irreplaceable family heirlooms. Unfortunately, some criminals capitalize on the opportunity to drive away with all your valuables, and some moving companies simply don’t deserve your trust for other reasons.
As you research your options for packing and moving, keep the following ten tips in mind to help you weed out the scam artists and find a company you can trust.
1. Know your rights and responsibilities
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) stresses the importance of staying alert and understanding your rights and responsibilities as a customer. If you know what you’re legally entitled to receive, you won’t make the mistake of settling for less. According to FMCSA requirements, you have the right to do the following:
• Pay no more than 110% of your original, non-binding estimate
• Hold mover liable for damaged goods (at least 60 cents per pound)
• Be present for weigh-ins and receive official weight tickets
• Request free reweighs before unloading
If a moving company questions you about any of these rights or asks you to relinquish them, it’s time to keep looking.
2. Be aware of common red flags
In order to detect “rogue movers” before they ever have a chance to strike, be on the lookout for some of the most common moving fraud red flags. The following violations are illegal and manipulative, and they may mean you’re not dealing with a moving company at all:
• Over-the-phone estimates
• Blank or incomplete documents
• Last-minute price increases
• Unmarked or rented trucks
• Receipts and paperwork that require you to release liability
If you encounter any of these warning signs, refuse to proceed until they clarify. There may be a miscommunication, but if not, feel free to walk away.
3. Read all documents thoroughly and get copies
Avoid signing blank or incomplete documents, because anyone could fill in the blanks later and hold you accountable for additional expenses. The following documents are required parts of every official move, so make sure they’re all there, and read through the details carefully before signing.
Order for service, complete with license and contact information, accepted forms of payment, and pickup date and time
• Inventory of all items
• Bill of lading
• Freight bill
• Weight tickets (only if estimate is non-binding)
No matter what, obtain a copy of every paper you sign. Even if your movers promise to send you a copy later, insist on obtaining one on the spot. Smartphone cameras make this easier than ever.
4. Avoid high and cash-only deposits
Deposits are perfectly normal, but only if they charge a reasonable amount and accept multiple forms of payment. If your movers request a large percentage of the fee upfront or require you to pay in cash, it’s time to move all right — move on to the next candidate. Paying by credit card or check will create a paper trail, making it easier to hold a company accountable even if you can’t track them down later. Your bank and credit card fraud protections often apply to these deposits too. Nonrefundable deposits are also relatively normal, because they guarantee your commitment and allow small companies to stay afloat in case of no-shows. However, if the company offers a grace period in which you can cancel your appointment and still receive a full refund, that’s a very good sign.
5. Verify their Department of Transportation number(s)
No reputable moving companies in Houston — or any other American city — will operate without a state license. For moves within the state of Texas, every licensed moving company must have a Texas Department of Transportation Number (TXDOT Number). If you’re making a long-distance move and the truck will cross state borders, make sure they have a federal license too. The FMCSA has interstate jurisdiction, so look for the U.S. Department of Transportation Number (USDOT Number) and plug it into the search engine on the FMCSA homepage. For example, at Hercules Movers & Packers, our USDOT Number is 2562074, and our TXDOT Number is 006871771C.
6. Read previous reviews
Word of mouth is still a fantastic way to scout new service providers and gauge their quality, but it has a valuable new dimension in the Internet age. Even if you know someone who has worked with the company before, it’s easy and important to seek a second — and third and fourth — opinion online. Search for the company on more than one consumer review website, and look for specific dates and details instead of just glancing at the average ratings. If all their positive reviews are outdated or generic, you’re in for a bumpy ride. If they have no digital presence at all, your odds are even worse.
7. Secure an on-site, written estimate
Written estimates are required for every commercial and residential moving company. If the company gives you an estimate over the phone or online, they’re not complying with federal or state requirements. If they do perform an on-site inspection but will only give you a verbal estimate, don’t schedule your move until they provide a written version of it. This written estimate may be binding or non-binding, so make sure you know which one it is, and what that means for you. Binding estimates are ironclad quotes, while non-binding estimates are just that: estimates of your final costs. You may end up paying more or less than this figure, but the estimate should tell you how they arrive at these rates. Unforeseen fees include expenses and complications at the delivery destination, but you are not required to pay these until at least 30 days after moving day, so don’t accept any last-minute charges that you didn’t already anticipate.
8. Clarify their coverage policies
Moving companies are always liable for losses and damages that occur in transit. However, there’s a difference between valuation and full coverage insurance. The minimum coverage is 60 cents per pound. If the coverage policy is very broad, or if they claim to offer full coverage but can’t provide specific figures or options, they may not be legitimate. Even reputable companies often recommend that customers secure their own private insurance or pay extra to cover particularly valuable items.
9. Verify and inspect their location(s)
A physical address is absolutely mandatory, and Google Maps makes it easy to verify it. If possible, visit their office and/or warehouse in person. If it’s dirty, disorganized or nondescript, this speaks volumes about the services they provide.
10. Take it one step at a time
This may sound painfully obvious, but your mental clarity is not a trivial detail. Moving is always stressful, but if you allow your stress to affect your judgment, the consequences could be much worse. Packing, switching all your contact information, setting up your new utilities, and other moving requirements look fun and effortless when you compare them to the long, emotionally draining process of trying to track down your stuff, reporting fraud, replacing your missing belongings, and dealing with sentimental losses. You’re too smart to fall for moving fraud, so practice self-care and remember to breathe throughout the process. As you do your best to sift out the scams and find a reliable mover, take mental breaks to focus on the future that lies ahead. Moving is often overwhelming, but it’s also incredibly rewarding. As long as you thoroughly research the company, stay vigilant during your interactions and transactions, and secure valid licensing and contact information, you’ll be able to focus on your own Moving Day checklist as you daydream and plan for your brand new future.
Brittney B. is a freelance writer who has moved several times throughout Illinois and Florida. She currently lives in Florida with her cats and rabbit.