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How to Spot a Bad Moving Company

By Jason Alderman

Moving is already traumatic and expensive enough; the last thing you want to worry about is getting ripped off by your mover. Yet each year, the Better Business Bureau receives thousands of complaints against moving companies, mostly alleging lost or damaged property, not showing up on time, overcharging – or, in extreme cases, stealing or holding customers' possessions hostage while demanding more money than originally agreed upon.

Before you spend hundreds or thousands of dollars and entrust your valuables with strangers, here are a few tips for ensuring a positive moving experience, as well as scams to avoid:

Screen potential movers. All companies that do interstate moves must be registered with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration ( You can use its search engine to screen for complaints, safety information and company contact information by company name or by the state where its primary business office is located.

Moving companies that don't cross state lines aren't governed by federal regulations, but rather, by individual state laws. Go to the State/Local Resources tab at FMCSA's site for links to each state's regulatory resources. Also make sure the company has at least a satisfactory rating from the Better Business Bureau.

Get written estimates. No reputable mover would ever give a firm estimate by phone or Internet, sight-unseen. Always insist on in-home inspections of your household goods and detailed, written estimates from at least three to five moving companies so you can get a sense of true market rates.

Movers need to know how much stuff you have, whether particularly heavy, valuable or awkward pieces need to be moved, if stairs are involved, and many other details that will affect their costs. Beware if an estimate is significantly less: This is a common ruse by unscrupulous companies to bind you to their service, then later hit you up for hidden fees – perhaps even refusing to unload your furnishings until you pay up.

By law, movers must assume liability for the value of property they transport. Ask for proof your mover has insurance and make sure you understand what's covered. Base-line coverage they should provide is called "released-value protection." It's free, but if something is lost or broken, they only have to pay you 60 cents per pound. For an additional fee you can purchase "full-value protection," where the mover must repair, replace or provide cash settlement for damaged items. Also consider third-party moving insurance.

A few additional tips:

  • Ask if the moving company will handle the entire move itself or hire subcontractors. Apply the same due diligence to any subcontractors.
  • Ask the company whether its crewmembers are employees or temporary hires and ask to see verification of background checks, either way.
  • Ask to see the company's "tariff," which outlines the maximum costs and how they're calculated, as well as a list of all items for which you could face additional charges.
  • Be wary if the mover asks for an overly large deposit up front or will only accept cash payments – you're better protected if paying by credit card or cashier's check.
  • Be wary if the company's website has no local address or license and insurance information, they refuse to put everything in writing or they use an unmarked truck rather than a company-owned vehicle.

Interstate movers are required by law to give you a copy of the FMCSA's booklet, "Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move." Even if your move is only local, be sure to read it for valuable tips.

This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.

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