There have always been unscrupulous companies in the moving business. After all, when you entrust all your life's possessions to them, they have an awful lot of power over you. The Internet has only made it worse because online moving brokers often pose as movers, give ridiculously low quotes and then sell their leads to actual movers, who load up your goods and then jack up the price.
The problem is so severe that many reputable, long-time national movers have stepped in to offer help because they hate to watch their industry tarnished. Mayflower Transit, for instance, founded a pro-bono organization called MoveRescue.com that is staffed by attorneys who advise customers of their legal rights.
If a fly-by-night mover has held people's goods hostage, Move Rescue will arrange for Mayflower trucks to rescue the items, for free. It's great to know that members of the reputable, established part of the industry want to help, but it's even better to help yourself, in advance, before the worst happens. Here's how:
Say No to Phone Estimates
Most moving brokers give their estimates by phone. They ask you to walk through your house and describe what is in each room. There are a couple problems with that. First, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, or FMCSA, which regulates interstate movers and brokers, says phone estimates, particularly estimates that seem too good to be true, are red flags that you might be dealing with a rogue mover who will pick your goods up and then hold them hostage until you've agreed to pay a substantially higher fee.
Second, you are not a professional moving estimator. When your move is more expensive than quoted, the broker can them blame you and say you weren't honest about how much furniture you had. Even if you're thorough, it's hard for a non-expert to know how many boxes it takes to hold all the books in your living room. And it's easy to forget about things like the BBQ grill out on your patio.
Third, the broker is not the one who has to actually transport your goods for the price quoted. So he does not have that personal motivation to make sure his price will cover it. If the quote is too low, loopholes in the law make it fairly easy for the mover to throw out the broker's quote and raise the price. Countless consumers have complained that they received lowball quotes from moving brokers and then the actual mover jacked up the price.
Refuse to Pay Upfront Fees
Most moving brokers charge a "deposit" in advance. But it's not really a deposit on the balance of the move, because it doesn't go to the mover. It's the broker's fee, and it can be several thousand dollars. It can also be a problem. Once again, the FMCSA lists upfront fees as a "red flag" because too many businesses have been known to charge a fee in advance, then not provide the promised service. Reputable moving companies don't charge large deposits in advance and usually accept full payment upon delivery of your goods.