Moving truck problemsYou may like the idea of a new house, but most people feel about moving the way they feel about a trip to the dentist -- it's one of life's necessary evils. Still, an estimated 37 million Americans do it each year, and about a third will do so between Memorial Day and Labor Day. But moving can be more than a logistical hassle: It you're not careful, you could get bamboozled in a big way.

The Better Business Bureau received more than 8,900 complaints against movers in 2010, a 5% increase over 2009, primarily about damaged or lost goods and final prices in excess of original estimates. In a too-frequent worst-case scenario, reports the BBB, a moving company holds the customer's belongings "hostage" and requires potentially thousands of dollars to unload the van.

10 Ways to Spot a Rogue Mover

Portrait of a Moving Scam Victim

Leslie Davis (not her real name) hired a company to handle her move from New York City to St. Louis last summer. Much to her surprise, the company she chose were just brokers who outsourced the job.

She went through everything in her one-bedroom apartment with the company's representative and got an estimate of $2,733. Shortly before moving, another representative called to "go over the estimate again."

"They wanted to be sure they would have enough space on the truck and they also asked if I would need a shuttle service, which was explained to me as having a second, smaller moving vehicle available if the full-size truck couldn't fit or park on my residential street in Queens," explains Davis.

She said that wouldn't be necessary, but the representative insisted. "He added the $1,500 shuttle fee onto the estimate, which ballooned to $4,439, and said that if the shuttle wasn't used, I obviously wouldn't be charged for it," she says. "That sounded reasonable to me."

When her property was picked up on July 25, she was told it would be delivered in early August, and to expect updated information and the final weight of her goods for the final bill.

"No one called me for the next two weeks. I called several times for a delivery date and final bill amount. Finally, I was told that I owed nearly double the original amount of the estimate! I had already made deposits of $1,700, but my bill was still $3,391! They said I was over the estimated weight by almost 1,000 pounds, which was impossible because we had a healthy estimate and didn't even bring all the furniture that we intended to," says Davis.

Meanwhile, no one knew anything about a shuttle fee, or had an itemized breakdown of her charges. No one would fax or email her the weigh tickets, and no manager returned her calls. "I wanted the bill resolved before delivery," she says.

A Hostage Situation

The moving company showed up with her stuff on Aug. 14. "They demanded the full $3,391 in cash only. We asked the driver if we could speak with his manager over the phone about the bill, and we asked for a re-weigh of our goods in our presence, at a nearby weigh station. The manager refused to speak with me and refused the re-weigh. They also refused to take a credit card payment," says Davis.

The movers drove off with the goods, and placed them in storage at a location they refused to disclose until the bill was paid, she says. Two days later, a manager called her. She was told to wire the full amount, after which she would receive, via FedEx, the storage facility address (reportedly five miles from her home) and keys. The manager also told her there was a shuttle fee on her bill because they had used one, though Davis says they had not.

Davis ended up reaching out to MoveRescue, a program sponsored by Mayflower Transit and United Van Lines that gives free legal help to people who have been scammed by disreputable movers. After MoveRescue negotiated for her, the bill was reduced by nearly $1,000, and her property was released, though it was at a facility 40 miles away in Illinois. "We had to handle the final move ourselves by paying someone different to move our goods out of storage," says Davis.

But her moving saga didn't end there. Items were missing and many were carelessly damaged: a Tiffany lamp with a broken base, a dining table with a broken leg, a broken television and a scratched dresser, to name a few. She had purchased moving insurance, which should have given her $4,500 to cover damages, but when she filed her claim, it was denied because the company said she had a $469.58 balance, despite Davis' written proof that they took that amount off her bill. Today, her claim is still unpaid.

Tips for Finding a Reliable Mover

Stories like Davis' are not unusual.

"Because anyone with a truck and a website can claim to be a mover, our industry is plagued by con artists who don't adhere to standards for honesty and ethical conduct," said American Moving & Storage Association President and CEO Linda Bauer Darr, in a prepared statement. "When it comes to such an important decision, you can prevent a lot of headaches by checking on a company in advance to identify which put customer service and integrity first," she said.

When it comes to moving, do your homework. For starters, check out the AMSA's consumer handbook, Make a Smart Move, and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's brochure, Protect Your Memories. Your Money. Your Move. You can also see what the Better Business Bureau has to say about a moving company by visiting

Other advice:

Research the company thoroughly. While state regulations vary, all interstate movers must, at a minimum, be licensed by the federal government and assigned a motor carrier number you can verify on FMCSA's website,

Look for the AMSA's ProMover logo. It signifies a quality, professional mover which has pledged to abide by the organization's Code of Ethics and has at least a satisfactory BBB rating, among other things.

Go with a name you know. It's not a bad idea to pick a company that has offices in your area and has been in business for at least 10 years, said Carl Walter, vice president of Mayflower.

Know your rights. Check out the FMCSA's booklet Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move. Be aware: Federal law requires movers give this to you prior to an interstate move.

Don't rely on a verbal agreement. You want to get pick up and delivery dates in writing, as well as an estimate of your costs. "You want documentation on everything you own. That way, should anything go missing en route to your new home, you have proof to show the authorities, the moving company management and your insurance agent," says Scott Pantall, of Blue Spruce Inventory.

Beware of These Danger Signs

Paige Holden, director of Holman Moving Systems, says there are some clues that should send you in the other direction.

Demand for payment upfront: There are only two instances where a legitimate mover will request a down payment. The first is in busy, competitive areas like New York City, where a mover may ask for a minimal deposit ($50 or so) to reserve the truck. They do this for protection: Sometimes people will reserve trucks from multiple companies and use whichever one shows up first. The other reason: If you are paying with a credit card, a mover may place a hold on the account to ensure the available credit will be sufficient to pay the bill. That's not an actual up-front charge, though, and won't appear on your bill: It's more like a reservation on the credit line.

'Mandatory' gratuity: Tipping your movers is like tipping for any other service. Customers should decide what is appropriate, if anything, after the service is completed.

Refusal to do an in-home estimate: Reputable movers will come to the home to see what needs to be moved before giving a final estimate. This is the best way to get an accurate quote. A lot of the internet moving brokers and some movers will argue this process is unnecessary, but the reality is that the good movers still do it.

Cheapest price: Customers who shop by price alone are likely to be buying trouble. Any company advertising itself as a "cheap mover" probably isn't going to provide the best -- or even acceptable -- service. Many scam movers will offer a low price to book the move, then add multiple fees after your goods are on their truck that you'll have to pay in order to get your stuff back. For the most part, that's how the scam works, so the cheapest price should always be a red flag.

It may still end up a stressful process, but with a bit of preparation, moving can be more nuisance than nightmare.

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Lexie Puckett

Moving is so stressful. There are so many unscrupulous movers out there, you have to be super paranoid about who moves your stuff. When I move, I “help” the movers pack the truck in order to keep an eye on what’s going on. Packing itself is also really stressful, I always end up with random cords that seem to not fit anything or over/under estimate the amount of packing supplies needed. Here is a quick article with some helpful tips for packing and link to a great packing calculator.

June 24 2011 at 2:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Another option is to just hire them to load the truck, I've done this a couple times, so I rented the truck and drove it, but paid them to load and unload it. That way at least I'm in control of the items and on my own schedule.

June 19 2011 at 2:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Google the name of the company first, google the name of the city and moving companies, etc. People tend to post bad and good experiences on messageboards, and you will find feedback on whow as good and bad, etc.

June 19 2011 at 2:11 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
James Brown

There is no better teacher than experience. Having been down this road with a moving company owned by an Israeli running a business out of New York and hiring Israeli green card holders who cycle through the U.S. and are gone the minute any evidence is collected. Then the company changes its name but is still based out of the same area. A word or warning... if you contract out of Maspeth, NY and non-U.S. Citizens show up. Sell all your stuff and get a U-haul for what you really need to keep.

June 10 2011 at 4:59 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I agree ith you, packing all your things you yourself will know where it is, how it was packed. Then if anything is broke, it is your own fault. It is not that expensive to rent a truck. Also, I don't want anyone snooping through through my things.

June 10 2011 at 2:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

A friend of mine was moviong in NJ from a house in Bergan County - a very rich area - however SHE wasn't rich and was leaving a relationship with nothing but her clothes. She still needed a mover and the guys gave an estimate over the phone, then when they got to the house and saw it, they DOUBLED it and started putting her things on the truck. She said she didn't agree to the new estimate and they said once her things were on the truck - too bad. Well these punks didn't know was that her now ex was a cop and in a bad mood already, he called more cops, and they found that these losers had been doing this all over the town. While they argued with the cops, my friends buddies climeb on the truck and quickly got her stuff off the truck. Game over.

I myself have used a really good outfit - which does sometimes subcontract out their moves - but has always been ontime, on budget and once even gave me back $50 they over charged me and did so on the SAME DAY they realized their mistake which was the day of the move. I'd recommend them here but no one would believe I wasn't FROM the company and just spamming! ;)

June 10 2011 at 2:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It's not hard to figure out why Americans are so bummed about this economy wiht a Potus that is hellbent on killing jobs, everything he is doing, such as making the announcement that current tax cuts for everyone would be only for two years and cuts would be reversed with additional taxes imposed. Businesses are not going to hire knowing taxes will increase in less than 2 years. AND will more than likely lay off more workers. Then adding new regulations on businesses costing the businesses more for operating expenses. Obama care which already caused insurance premiums to go up at a huge cost to employers, at least to those who are still offering insurance. AND raising the Capital gains tax on businesses further cutting into any kind of a profit that could be used to expand facilities and create jobs.....NOT until this potus is voted out will the economy improve. Because O designed it this way...Cloward and Piven.....

June 10 2011 at 1:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Same thing happened to me with Father and Son movers. My "guaranteed" estimate was doubled by the time my things arrived with much damaged goods. Filed a claim and never was able to get anyone on the phone. BEWARE OF FATHER AND SONS MOVING AND STORAGE.....

June 10 2011 at 1:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

i dont understand why people can't just get a rental truck from uhaul or budget or a well known company and move everything themselves or find friends who would help. I am sure it would not be that difficult. That is what I do every time. And I am a 120 pound female who doesn't have a problem lifting and working hard for a day. And I know my things are safe, because I am the one moving them and/or my reliable friends or acquaintances. Now I understand that not everyone is able to lift heavy couches or don't have enough people to help. You can easily pay friends or ask family to help. I don't know, that is just me. I can never see myself hiring a moving company and nor can I see myself affording that. But I have always grew up as a hard worker and would never hire people to do stuff for me.

June 10 2011 at 1:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to keephatin16's comment

Well moving a whole house of stuff across the country isn't easy, after getting burned by United Van Lines moving from NY-MS we decided to rent our own truck to move back a year later, we rented the biggest truck we could legally drive and had to leave stuff behind that we couldn't fit. Driving a very large truck especially into a city isnt easy for most people. It's one thing is you don't have alot of things and if you are moving locally.

June 10 2011 at 2:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to cindi's comment

I work for one of the top rated United Van Lines agent's located in Michigan. I'm concerned to read that you were burned by one of my fellow agents. Can you be more specific about your experience and what happened? Most United agents take great steps to care for their customers.
Thank you in advance for your reply,

June 10 2011 at 5:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

So you move your couches and desks and bed? I highly doubt it, sounds like your "hard work" is more about having others do it for you.

June 19 2011 at 2:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

In my experience all movers are con men. I predicted a F**k Story for my daughter moving from Florida (by herself) and sure enough it came true. Not enough room, too much weight, too many pieces, yadda yadda and yadda. Movers, car repairmen, roofers and tele-marketers should have their own union and then branch out into private prisons so they could send themselves there.

June 10 2011 at 1:11 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply