Moving Scams

September 1st, 2016 - 10:25 AM

Research to stop rip offs

If you’re in the process of moving long distance, chances are you’re aware that scammers could be lurking. While no one goes into a move expecting a bad outcome, unfortunately it can (and does) happen occasionally. As you look for the best service to move your belongings, it’s wise to stay on guard. You’ll find that time spent researching is time well spent. While a reasonable price is always important, what’s even more important is selecting a company that’s trustworthy. 

moving scams

Stop scams in their tracks

These days just about anyone can build a website that appears legit — and the moving industry isn’t immune to scammers doing this with ill-intent in mind. In response to reports from too many consumers who’ve experienced significant loss at the hands of unscrupulous scammers, governmental agencies have made big strides in shutting them down. There’s a problem, and the powers that be are working diligently to fix it. The Office of Inspector General currently lists five pages of fugitives wanted for fraud involving moving companies.

This 2012 press release from a U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation hearing entitled “Taking Consumers for a Ride: Business Practices in the Household Goods Moving Industry” brings to light moving scams that take advantage of American families while they’re moving. It spends some time focusing on extortion, internet moving brokers and other unfortunate abuses.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has also been cracking down for several years. This news release from April 2011 reports that the FMCSA conducted compliance reviews as part of the agency’s year-long Household Goods Strike Force initiative. It studied 67 moving companies across the country, targeting those considered “high-risk,” and looking for violations like holding goods hostage, collecting fees more than the original binding estimate and failing to provide consumers with an arbitration process. As a result, three companies faced serious charges.

Moving Scam red flags

It’s important to note that not all moving services are bad. In fact, you’ll likely find that most have your best interest in mind. But, it’s vital to know what to look for when you start sorting the good from the bad. Here are some things that should raise concern:

  • No written quote or estimate
    A legitimate company will always offer a quote in writing — online, email, USPS mail, fax or personal delivery. Scammers give quotes by phone but avoid putting anything in writing. And more often than not, phone quotes are significantly lower than comparable services. If the moving service doesn’t offer a written estimate, ask for one. If they can’t (or won’t) provide it, look elsewhere. 
  • Requiring a large cash down payment or up-front payment in full
    This is a scam you’ll often see with companies that say they’re a moving brokerage service. Rather than matching shipments with carriers that truly offer a service and price that matches your needs, the broker makes up a low price that undercuts competitors and entices you to choose them. Then, unbeknownst to the actual shipper (because the broker reserves the move acting as you), the scammer collects payment from you, then bails, never paying the actual shipper. At that point, the shipper tries to collect from you, but you’ve already paid some or all of your payment to the broker. 

    While U-Pack doesn’t require a down payment (you pay by credit card after the shipment is loaded and in transit), many legitimate movers do. Just requiring it isn’t unusual, and shouldn’t be considered a scam. What should be considered a red flag is paying a large amount in cash and NOT getting a detailed receipt in writing. Any payment you make should be applied to the cost of your move. Keep in mind that if you pay in cash with no detailed receipt, there’s no paper trail, so it’s your word against theirs. When it comes to moving, making your payment by credit card is much safer than paying with cash. 
  • Quoting a price that’s significantly lower than comparable competition
    If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Some companies have higher costs than others based on things like capacity, driver availability, etc., so it’s not unusual to see differences in price. Where you should be concerned is when it’s a significant difference for a comparable service. If you’re getting estimates from a full-service mover, they’ll do an in-home estimate and quote based on the weight of your shipment. Ask (and get in writing) how much weight they’re estimating. Then make sure it’s consistent with what other movers are quoting. You don’t want to be in a position where the mover has control of your goods and tells you that the price is much higher than originally estimated. This is where the idea of “holding goods hostage” comes from. Make sure to ask how the price will be calculated if your shipment is larger than quoted, or if it’s smaller than quoted. What is the maximum and minimum you’ll pay? And ask if there are additional fees that are not quoted. Again, get everything in writing. 
  • No information about the company other than their own website
    In the age of social media and review websites, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to find information about a moving company online. If all that’s available is a website, even if it looks good, mark them off the list. It’s most likely a fly-by-night. These scammers sometimes even show up at your house in company work shirts, load your belongings and you never hear from them again. Do your research ahead of time by checking sites like the Better Business Bureau, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and review/social sites like Yelp, Facebook and Twitter. Be informed.

    *Note: U-Pack is not a full-service moving company regulated by the FMSCA as a household goods carrier). We fall into the self-move category as a “you pack, we drive” service. Basically, you do the packing, loading and unloading, and we handle the transportation. Your price is based on the linear feet your shipment occupies inside a moving trailer or the number of containers you use, so you know your price as you’re loading. The primary transportation provider for U-Pack is ABF Freight®, regulated by the DOT as an all commodities carrier, which you’ll find when you use the FMCSA’s SAFER system. Learn more about how U-Pack moving services work.
  • Charging by cubic feet
    If a full-service mover mentions charging based on cubic feet, though it can be legal if certain provisions are met (the mover must have a tariff which permits cubic feet charges among other things), it’s wise to mark them off your list. A dishonest mover could load inefficiently to inflate the cubic footage and your cost.

    Note that self-move services like U-Pack typically charge based on linear feet (rather than cubic feet) or the number of containers used. With a linear foot estimate, the quote includes a per-foot rate that can be added or subtracted based on the space used. Or, if it’s a container move, you should be able to request a quote for using more or less containers. This puts you in complete control of your move — you know the price as you load, and your shipment isn’t co-mingled with other shipments. Learn more about linear-foot based self-moving
  • Full-service movers with no in-home estimate
    Much of the information you’ll read regarding moving scams mentions that the mover should ALWAYS do an in-home estimate. That’s definitely the case if you’re looking at a full-service mover (a company who does the packing, loading, driving and unloading). Almost all full-service prices are based on the weight of the shipment. So, a moving company representative should walk through your home and provide a price based on the items they see in your home. If a full-service mover will not do an in-home estimate with written documentation, look elsewhere. 

    “You pack, we drive” services on-the-other-hand, don’t do in-home estimates, and this is completely normal. As mentioned previously, they fall into the “self-move” category, so instead of a weight estimate, you can use a room-by-room space estimators to calculate the linear footage or the number of containers you need.

Things you can do to avoid a moving scam:

  • Research companies thoroughly
    • Ask for recommendations from friends, family and your online social networks
    • Check online review sites
    • Check the company’s standing with the BBB
  • Get the moving estimate in writing
  • Avoid companies that charge by cubic feet. Instead choose a “you pack, we drive” service that charges by linear feet or a full-service mover that charges by weight
  • Don’t pay upfront — especially in full
  • Pay via credit card rather than cash

What to do if you spot a fraud

Tell someone. Federal, state and local law enforcement are committed to stopping moving scams. You can find contact information for your state here:   

We’re here to help

U-Pack provides an easy way to calculate your costs up front, with an easy-to-read price quote. This, combined with a top-notch customer care team, trained to answer your questions and find solutions to your moving challenges, makes it the ideal way to move long distance. Check us out on Facebook and Twitter, then see what customers have to say on review sites like Yelp and If you have questions about how to avoid a moving scam, how U-Pack works, or if you would like to get a quote for your move, leave a comment below, get a quote online or call us at 800-413-4799. We look forward to helping.