‘Movers Held My Stuff Hostage’: How to Avoid This Moving Scam

Moving to a new home is stressful enough … but just imagine how much worse it would be if the movers you hired took your belongings hostage.

Sounds crazy, but it’s a lot more common than you might think. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, 9% of the 4,100 consumers who filed moving fraud complaints in 2017 involved “hostage loading situations” in which moving companies held onto items to extort more money than their customers agreed to pay.

How can this happen? To shed some light on how your belongings can make a terrifying detour down a dark path, three people who gave themselves up to their moving company tell realtor.com® their stories. Here’s what they learned to help you heed these warning signs and what to do if this happens to you.

“We just moved down the street”

Based in Los Angeles Justin Chung I was walking down the street – so he hired a small local moving company over the phone to provide information about the size of the items, the number of rooms, and the presence of stairs.

“When we moved a few blocks and had already packed our belongings in boxes, they said it would only take three hours and gave us a quote based on that,” he recalls.

Sounds good so far, doesn’t it? Not that fast – literally.

“What was supposed to be three hours turned into four hours, then five,” says Chung. “When time was money we confronted them, which only irritated the moving companies. They threatened to quit the job and keep our things in the truck. In the end, my family and I found we had no choice but to do that Accepting the situation There was no binding, written estimate. We even helped the moving company ourselves. “

Chung learned an important lesson from this step.

“Instead of getting quotes online or over the phone, schedule an in-house tour and inspection for a more accurate estimate,” advises Chung. “Get everything in writing. Usually the originator is not the same person who made you the offer. So it is important to have a binding estimate on hand in the event of a dispute.”

“I felt so angry and helpless”

As an Ontario-based insurance professional James Heidebrecht by Policy Architects He hired movers who showed up late and hastily signed the contract to start the job.

“If I had read the contract closely, I would have noticed that the company name on the letterhead was different from the name on the Craigslist ad,” he says. “That should have been our first red flag.”

The first stage of the move, during which a friend moved a couch to Heidebrecht’s new home, went smoothly.

“But when they got to the house with all of the rest of our furniture from the apartment, it quickly turned sour,” he says.

The moving companies moved about half of the family’s belongings into their new home, then stopped and told them they couldn’t do the rest until they were paid in full – and they reported a sum 180% higher than that agreed amount. When Heidebrecht demanded that they honor their agreement, the moving company gave him a cell phone to speak to their boss.

“He said the move resulted in more than was agreed and if we hadn’t paid quickly, he would tell the moving company to leave with our belongings,” he recalls.

Heidebrecht’s wife called the police, but was told that there was nothing law enforcement could do.

“He said it happened all the time, and because we signed a contract, his hands were tied,” he says. “At some point, to put even more pressure on us, the truck drove away with our belongings and we got another call from the boss asking us to pay. I have to say, I don’t know if there will ever be a time for that I felt so angry and helpless. “

Heidebrecht learned the hard way that even in the rush of moving, you should always carefully review your moving company so that you know you are dealing with licensed and experienced professionals.

“Look for reviews, ask for testimonials, and give them a call,” he says. “Hiring a traditional moving company doesn’t seem so expensive anymore. You get what you pay for.”

Cars can also be held captive

Housewares aren’t the only items that hijack movers.

“In 2005 my husband and I moved to Illinois from California,” he says Ali Wenzkewho blogs, The Art of Happy Moving. “We hired a car haulage company to ship our Honda Passport while my husband was driving the U-Haul truck across the country. They assured us that we could keep track of our car at any time. This only became important when we did The ‘auto-tracking system’ turned out to be the driver’s cell phone. He chose not to answer it. “

On the evening of the delivery date, Wenzke received a call that the company could not deliver the car to Chicago. Instead, it would be kept in a warehouse until she could pick it up … and she would be charged a daily storage fee.

“When I asked where my car was kept, the company said I had to send them extra money to get the location,” she says. “Fortunately, I was working for a law firm and a lawyer called the auto transport company on my behalf. They gave the location of the car with no additional referral, but I still had to find a ride to the warehouse. Since I didn’t know anyone in Chicago “The lawyer felt sorry for me and drove me out of town for an hour and a half to get my car back. The first thing I did was give my Honda a tight hug.”

How to avoid being scammed by moving companies

Before hiring a moving company, check out the Better Business Bureau for free reports on more than 5 million moving companies across the country, Canada and Mexico. The BBB also warns consumers to look out for moving companies who ask for cash or a large deposit prior to moving, or who cannot provide proof of registration, insurance, or an address where they are based.

Always keep your favorite valuables (such as cash, jewelry, photos and important papers) with you or send them separately via a shipping service with tracking numbers and insurance.

If you’re looking to save some money, try the “hybrid” approach, where you rent your own moving truck and hire moving companies by the hour to handle the loading and unloading. Since you drive the truck, you will always have your belongings, so your move is practically fraud-proof.

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