Can you imagine the fear and helplessness you would feel if you watched your home’s possessions disappear in a moving van, never to be seen again? You might pay a ransom to recover your precious keepsakes. And that is exactly how moving company fraud turns an exciting event into a terrifying ordeal. A few simple steps, however, can help you avoid moving company fraud and see your transition from old home to new run smoothly.

Young man on moving day

What to Watch For

The best defense against moving company fraud is to shun rogue movers before they can get to you. Recognize the signs:

Refusal to consider interstate moves: A company limited to intrastate (within the borders) moves does not have federal registration, or may be attempting to avoid federal scrutiny.

Low-ball estimates: Numbers too good to be true usually lead to sharply increased prices to release your possessions after they are loaded into the van.

No offer to inspect the goods to be moved before offering an estimate: Internet or telephone rate quotes are nonsense.

Demands for payment first: Either through cash or a substantial deposit.

No booklet: By law, interstate movers must provide you with the FMCSA brochure, explaining your rights and responsibilities when you move, well before any actual move.

No local contact information: no address, no state or federal license, no mention of insurance.

Rentals: Ask to see the fleet, and if none exists or all the trucks are rentals, move on.

Pressure to tip: Any pressure, polite or otherwise, to tip the movers may mean the broker is getting most of the fee and the crew is working mostly for tips.

Connect the D.O.T.s

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) regulates motor carriers, which include moving companies, through its Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). No licensed interstate mover can operate without a DOT number. This should appear on the trucks, in advertisements, and on the moving company’s paperwork. Rogue movers intent on moving company fraud will use rental trucks, repainted vans, or magnetic door signs lacking DOT numbers.

Get it in Writing

Beware the broker or mover who, without seeing your home, quotes you a price over the telephone. That price will surely climb, sharply, once the big day arrives. Movers are required to provide written estimates. Get at least three such estimates from different companies to compare rates and coverages.

If the estimate is vague, be persistent. If you are asked to sign something, examine it thoroughly. If you see information is wrong, incomplete or missing, refuse to sign. Moving company fraud works because customers feel rushed, under pressure and often unfocused. Avoid misunderstandings by getting everything in writing.

Know What You’re Getting

Typical moving company fraud often involves a dramatically lower charge for services because the company is offering “released value” coverage. This will pay 60 cents per pound for all your possessions in the event of damage. Released value coverage has no additional charge, so the total bill may be a lot cheaper than a legitimate company’s price.

Full value protection covers the actual replacement value of anything lost or damaged in transit. The item can be repaired or replaced, or the carrier can provide a cash settlement. Because of the more comprehensive coverage, this liability protection may be very detailed and will add to your move’s costs.

Check ‘Em Out

Legitimate moving companies large and small are proud of their work histories. The federal government maintains a searchable database of interstate movers which includes their safety record, complaints and contact information. You can also contact the Better Business Bureau or the Chamber of Commerce.

Need a mover you can trust? Check out Jay’s Small Moves, a San Francisco Bay Area moving company that has won awards from Angie’s List and has earned lots of great reviews on Yelp!