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How to avoid being scammed by movers

With home foreclosures on the rise, some moving companies are taking advantage of the situation with unscrupulous tactics. Real estate expert Barbara Corcoran reveals how to avoid their tricks.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

With foreclosures up a whopping 30 percent over last year, moving and storage scams are also on the rise. It’s bad enough when you lose your home, but many families get scammed on their moving bill too.And moving companies are slicker than used-car salesmen. Their tricks of the trade fool just about everybody. Here’s how to make your moving bill match the estimate given — and get your furniture delivered in one piece and on time. 

I.  The Big Scams

‘The Hostage’
You get a lowball estimate from a moving company, but once they’ve loaded your furniture on their truck they change the charges, sometimes doubling or tripling their original quote. If you balk at the number, they simply refuse to give you your belongings until you agree to the inflated price.

The ‘Bait and Switch’
The original estimate is based on the weight of your goods, but when the bill arrives you’re told that the cubic feet of your goods exceeded the estimate. Again, the movers hold your belongings until you agree to pay the inflated price.

Trumped-up Charges
New clauses are added to your original contract because, “The estimate was just for moving, not for packing.” Or you’re told, “You weren’t packed, so it took us longer.” 

The Late or Never Delivery
Your stuff arrives weeks late. If the mover has a licensing violation, their truck is impounded in transit by the Department of Transportation with all your stuff on board! If the mover combines your delivery with the next guy’s, your stuff’s stuck waiting in the back of the truck. As you wait for your real furniture to arrive, you spend money on item after item to hold you over.

Reckless Abandonment
The worst movers just fold up shop and fly the coop while you’re awaiting delivery. They abandon your shipment at a private storage facility and, if you can find it, you get stuck footing the bill to get your furniture out of storage.

II.  What NOT to Do

Don’t Give a Deposit
Reputable moving companies don’t ask you to pay anything up front.

Don’t Sign a Partial Contract
Never, ever sign a blank or incomplete contract.

Don’t Put Your Furniture in a Truck With No Name
Established companies have clearly marked trucks, not rentals or blank vans. If the truck is a mess, it’s a good indication of how your furniture will arrive.

Don’t Fall for a Moving Broker
Always deal directly with the moving company. It’s easy to look like a moving company online; anybody with a few dollars and a little IT knowledge can set up a slick-looking Web site. But many are really brokers just sending your job to someone else. 

Don’t Sign a Skinny Contract
Your moving contract should spell out all the details of the transaction, including price, delivery date, needed supplies and a complete list of your possessions. It should clearly specify there are no additional costs, like a driver’s fee or mandatory tips.

Don’t Pay Cash
If you do, you’ll have no record of the paid transaction — and the company can disappear with your belongings, pretending that no transaction ever happened.

III.  How to Ensure a Happy Move

Insist on an On-site Estimate
All reputable moving companies send a representative to your house to survey the job before they give a free estimate. If they don’t, find another company. 

Check the Company Address
If you’re using a company you’ve found online, make sure their Web site gives an actual street address (to see if it really exists, Google it).

Ask Your Real Estate Agent for a Recommendation
Realtors are on the front lines and hear all the gossip. They’re usually the best source for a moving company.

Get Three Competitive Estimates
Most moving estimates come in within 15 percent of each other. If one estimate is much lower than the others, don’t hire that company. Remember to show them everything you plan to move, including the stuff in the basement, attic and garden shed. Make Sure the Estimate Is Based on Weight — Not Cubic Feet
When a moving company charges by weight, they’re obligated to provide proof of the weight of your belongings at no cost to you. Cubic feet don’t have to be proven.

Check Out and
You can search a mover and their complaint history at Also check out the “black list” at

Buy Extra Insurance on Valuable Items
The moving company’s insurance does not always cover the full value of your belongings. Sign up for extra insurance on the most valuable items.

Ask How You Make Claims
Know what the company’s claim process is before you sign a contract. It either has its own claims agent, outsources claims to a third party, or mandates that you deal directly with their insurance company.

IV.  Where to Get Help

This is a government Web site where you can lodge complaints and have them satisfied.

This is a consumer assistance service aimed at stopping disreputable interstate movers.

V.  Ways to Save on Your Move

Do Your Own Packing
Grandfather clocks, chandeliers, pool tables, pianos, hot tubs and aquariums need to be packed by a pro, but most everything else you can pack yourself.

Eliminate Old Stuff
Get rid of the kids’ old toys, outdated CDs and DVDs and books. It’s often cheaper to buy a new sofa than to move your old one and reupholster it to match your new place. 

Don’t Move Appliances
Or large ceiling fixtures. It doesn’t pay to move them. You’re better off buying new.

Don’t Pay for Boxes offers free or very cheap boxes. And use your linens to cushion items instead of buying bubble wrap.