In March of last year, Laura Welch's kids talked her into moving from Florida to Arizona, to be closer to them. The 82 year-old was reluctant, but resigned. She found a mover online, in her town, that seemed reputable. She interviewed the owner, and he showed her his credentials, gave her a service contract and asked for a $3,500 upfront deposit. The day of the move, everything went well.
But her furniture never made it to Arizona. "It was all just a big scam!" said Welch.
Welch placed repeated calls to the vendor and received a series of excuses. Weeks went by, which turned into months. Finally Welch, frustrated and at risk of losing more than just money, called the police in her former hometown. They said they couldn't help. She contacted the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's (FMCSA) office in Washington D.C. and they applied some pressure to the moving company.
In the end, Welch turned to the aid of MoveRescue.com, a non-profit organization run by Mayflower, a major player in the moving industry. The group seeks to help individuals who have been victimized in moving scams. MoveRescue managed to retrieve Welch's possessions from the storage space the fraudulent company had dumped them in and ferried them to Arizona for her.
Welch finally moved into her new home in August, six months later than the original plan. She's never had her $3,500 deposit returned.
Welch's story is not unique, unfortunately. Moving fraud has been on the rise for the last 10 to 15 years, with the proliferation of Internet vendor sites making it easier to fake credentials and testimonials.
Here are some tips for avoiding a situation like Welch's and enjoying a seamless move.
1. Ask for recommendations from friends and familyYou can research a mover online until the cows come home, but the fact is that websites are easy to put up and take down, online testimonials are easy to fake, and Internet credentials are just words. Talking to a friend or family member, or soliciting the advice of a trusted real estate agent, are better ways to obtain the names of reputable companies.
2. InvestigateThere are several options for investigating movers, including government sites like ProtectYourMove.gov, and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's (FMCSA) site, FMCSA.gov. There are also private websites like MovingScam.com, which maintains a "black list" of over 376 movers. Some states have consumer mover-advocate associations as well.
Mayflower, recommends having the vendor visit your home before the big day. He says, "There are lots of ins and outs with moving; it can be complicated. Make sure the company sends someone to your home to look around and talk to you about what you need." Good companies will spend 20 minutes or more with a potential client answering questions and giving packing tips.
4. Get three estimatesShop around and get three estimates, in writing, after the aforementioned home visit. This is especially important for state to state moves, where the logistics are even more critical. Walter cautions against simply accepting the lowest bid. "It can be a red flag if one of your three bids is much lower than the others."says Walters. "It's not always a scam, but ask yourself why is it so low."
5. Don't pay your bill upfrontSome companies require a down payment or deposit as high as 25 percent of the total move, especially for a state-to-state relocation. Reputable companies should not require you to pay everything, or even half, upfront.
Welch is planning to move again this year, to a smaller apartment, and she is doing it herself, with the help of her grandsons. Can you blame her?More on MoneyWatch:
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Ilyce R. Glink is the author of several books, including 100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask and Buy, Close, Move In!. She blogs about money and real estate at ThinkGlink.com and The Equifax Personal Finance Blog, and is Chief Content Strategist at RealtyJoin.com, a community for real estate investors.
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