Pitfalls to Avoid When Using Movers

April 20, 2001 -- If you're among the millions of families that will be relocating soon, this is a good time to take the needed steps to avoid moving day scams and rip-offs.

The most common complaints allege: missed pickup or delivery dates; charges that exceed the estimate provided; and disputes regarding claims for lost or damaged household goods. The Better Business Bureau has these tips to avoid similar pitfalls:

Obviously the most important advice is to select a good moving and storage company. There are thousands of responsible, reputable moving and storage companies that do not have a pattern of complaints. To find out who the best movers are in your area, consumers should ask friends, relatives and co-workers for recommendations. Also check with your local Better Business Bureau the American Moving and Storage Association to see if they have information on the company.

Once you've compiled a list of movers, contact them for additional information and to compare their services. Get an in-home, visual estimate. How professional is company representative? Ask for a written estimate, and know whether it's a binding or a non-binding estimate. Reach a clear understanding about the amount of packing and other services needed. Carefully compare each estimate to see which company best suits your needs and budget.

What about insurance? Some consumers mistakenly assume that the moving company is insured to cover the full value of their goods at no extra charge. That is not the case. Unless the consumer makes specific arrangements, the mover generally assumes liability for the shipment at an amount equal to 60 cents per pound, per article.

The consumer may obtain additional liability protection, at an extra charge, from the mover. The levels of liability and charges for each option vary. Consumers should assess the various options, check to see what might already be covered under their homeowner's insurance policy, and then purchase the coverage that best meets their needs. If a specific amount of insurance is requested, that amount should appear on the lading/freight bill and the consumer should obtain a copy of the insurance policy that the moving company obtains.

Claims and complaints: Be physically present when the mover both loads and unloads your belongings to check that everything has been packed and arrives in good condition. If goods are missing or damaged, make sure you report the fact promptly and in detail on the van driver's copy the original of the inventory sheet before you sign it, says the bureau. If you notice damage after unpacking, a claim must be filed in writing, with a specific dollar amount stated, within nine months after delivery. However, it's to your advantage to report damage as soon as possible.

If the moving company is not responsive, the consumer can contact the bureau where the company is headquartered to initiate a complaint process. Call your local bureau or use the state-by-state directory on the BBB Web site. Under its new Movers Program, the BBB will assist the consumer/shipper and the carrier in reaching a settlement of their dispute. If this can't be achieved, then the BBB can provide mediation and arbitration if the parties choose.