BBB Investigation Exposes Fraudulent Movers – Reports Over 13,000 Complaints Filed Nationwide
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Allowing someone you didn’t know to drive away with your belongings is one of the many stressful aspects of a long-distance move – especially if that move is complicated or possibly triggered by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Unfortunately, some consumers find that their stress levels are exacerbated by fraudulent moving companies charging them multiples of the advertised amount, subjecting them to unreasonably long delivery windows, holding their items hostage for additional, undisclosed fees, and leaving them with damaged goods.
An in-depth research study by the Better Business Bureau (BBB) found that fraud is widespread in the moving industry, especially with international moves. BBB receives an average of 13,000 complaints and negative reviews about moving companies each year. Many complaints describe how experiences with dishonest moving companies have turned into financial and emotional nightmares. Although there are many good, reputable moving companies out there, it is a good idea to do your homework first before signing a contract or making a payment.
The research study – Know Your Mover: BBB Study Reveals Fraudulent Pricing Errors, Taking Items Hostage, and Destroying Goods – reveals the risk to consumers who do not do careful research before hiring a moving company.
According to the study, a fraudulent removal company can be helpful on the phone first and have a well-designed website that has years of experience, well-trained employees, satisfied customers and appropriate licenses. However, the red flags start when the company claims it cannot do a personal inspection and appraisal. While it can claim to be local, in reality it is based out of state and pays for a local PO Box address. An initial low-ball quote soon climbs up as the company claims – often based on incorrect calculations – that you have more belongings than originally thought.
The bad actor may charge additional fees after the truck is loaded and unloaded and may not deliver your goods until days or even weeks after you move in. In fact, the company you originally paid may not even be the company making your move, you may have hired local temporary workers who rented a truck, or they acted as a broker with another company.
Most people only move a few times in their life, so hiring a moving company can be an unfamiliar process that leaves them prone to fraud. The good news is that there are plenty of reputable moving companies out there. Unfortunately, they compete against some doers who just don’t care about ethics. This burdens consumers with thorough research to avoid undue expense and heartache.
The US Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a branch of the US Department of Transportation, regulates interstate and international removals. Of the 4,780 complaints FMCSA received in 2019, 57% related to an overload. Less than 10% of victims are believed to report fraud to BBB or law enforcement agencies, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Therefore, the actual size and severity of this problem is likely to be much larger and more serious than what the statistics indicate.
Consumers whose goods are held hostage by a fraudulent removal company can contact MoveRescue for assistance. This group was formed by moving companies Mayflower and United Van Lines to provide free relief to victims of moving fraud. The organization is asking victims to provide copies of their moving contracts so they can immediately contact the moving company and negotiate with the moving company to locate goods and have them delivered. MoveRescue also tracks fraudsters in motion and reports situations to FMCSA so the agency can take action.
Enforcement action against moving scams can be difficult. The U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General prioritizes moving fraud and has worked with FMCSA to assist state and federal law enforcement agencies in pursuing moving fraud and related crimes. Many moving scams involve Israeli nationals operating out of Florida, where the attorney general has actively filed lawsuits against such companies.
The best way to avoid such scams, according to the BBB study, is to do careful research before hiring a moving company. The report specifically recommends looking up a removal company’s license number on the FMCSA website and the BBB business profile at bbb.org.
What to do if you are a victim of a moving scam:
- Report to the local police.
- Contact MoveRescue at moverescue.com or (800) 832-1773.
- Go to BBB.org to file a complaint or report a scam on Scam Tracker.
- File an online complaint with the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration or call 1-888-DOT-SAFT (1-888-368-7238). While regulators typically don’t represent individual victims, they do track complaints and request the removal company’s license number.
- Register with the insurer listed in your moving contract.
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