If you're in the process of moving, chances are you have a lot on your plate, from changing utilities to packing your life in boxes. The last thing on your mind is falling victim to a scam.
What's more, you might think you're savvy enough to spot a scam, but scammers today have become increasingly sophisticated thanks to technology. In fact, people in the U.S. reported losing $1.48 billion to fraud last year, an increase of 38 percent over 2017, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
In particular, more than 5,900 consumers filed moving fraud complaints with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in 2018, with 39 percent reporting lost or damaged property and 57 percent claiming report overcharges, according to data from the FMCSA.
While the majority of people experience fairly pleasant moves, it's best to protect yourself against moving scams by knowing what red flags to look for and thoroughly vetting vendors.
After all, moving is hard enough. The last thing you want to worry about is placing your precious belongings into the wrong hands. Check out the five most common moving scams.
It's rare for a moving company to require a cash deposit before moving your things. Paying a large cash deposit upfront leaves you vulnerable to never to seeing your belongings or money again.
Typically, you pay the moving company upon the delivery of your things for an agreed amount outlined in a detailed contract. When you do settle your bill, never pay in cash. Instead, use a debit or credit card so you have a record of payment should you ever need to file a complaint.
If a moving company requires a deposit, cross them off your list of potential vendors.
One of the most common moving frauds is estimation bait and switch. This is how it works: A company will give you a too-good-to-be-true estimate over the phone or online without ever stepping foot inside your home. Once your belongings are packed onto the truck, they demand a much larger sum of money before they will deliver or release your things, forcing you to fork over the cash out of desperation.
When vetting moving companies, make sure they agree to an in-home evaluation. During the evaluation, beware of an estimator who simply glances at your things without asking questions or taking notes of what exactly you plan to take with you.
Based on the evaluation, the company should provide you with a reasonable, “guaranteed" quote that outlines each and every line item.
Keep your eyes open for contracts that are not fully executed or contain complex language that's hard to understand. Companies can draft an incomplete or overly complicated contract in order to trick people into signing off on something in which they wouldn't normally agree to.
Take your time evaluating the contract and be sure to look for the following items:
Don't be afraid to ask questions. When it comes to your belongings, no question is stupid. If the vendor refuses to answer your questions or avoids giving you a straight answer, chances are they can't be trusted.
If you're moving a large number of expensive items, consider having a lawyer look over the contract for you. Nevertheless, you should be able to tell whether a contract is legitimate by reading over the terms carefully yourself and asking questions.
Below are some additional red flags to look for when vetting a moving company, outlined by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration:
When researching potential movers, protect yourself and your belongings by keeping these common scams and red flags in mind. In addition, check multiple resources like Yelp, Google, Angie's List and Facebook for reviews. If someone has encountered a bad experience, you can bet your belongings that they've likely written a review about it.
If you do think you're a victim, you can contact the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration by calling 1-888-COT-SAFT or by using their online complaint tool.