So you’ve finally decided to buy a new home. You’ve got all your belongings packed up and loaded into the moving truck. All of the stress is finally behind you. Right?
Not necessarily. Consumer watchdogs have been uncovering a new snag in the home-buying process, this involving moving companies who give particular estimates to customers and inflate them once their possessions are loaded in the truck. They’re holding individuals’ belongings hostage until the higher fees are paid, threatening to auction off the items if they don’t comply.
How common is this? The Better Business Bureau fielded over 8,500 similar complaints in 2012. So what can you do to protect yourself from it? Pacific Union has some helpful tips:
Consumer Reports suggests not relying on newspaper, phone-book, or online ads to obtain the names of movers. Instead, get recommendations from friends, family, or reliable real estate professionals. Request estimates from at least three companies.
Insist on receiving licensing information, and use a mover that has a marked truck and puts everything in writing, Consumer Reports warns. Avoid movers that require large upfront deposits, and check with your local Better Business Bureau for any complaints against companies.
In California, moving companies are regulated by the state Public Utilities Commission, which offers advice and an exhaustive mover’s guide on its website.
The PUC also makes available a summary of recent investigations of moving companies. The latest update, which covers the first quarter of 2013, notes more than two dozen enforcement actions against companies that failed to get proper state licenses or engaged in fraudulent activities, including eight movers in the Bay Area. The California PUC said it helped consumers get refunds totaling more that $13,000 from moving companies.
Another excellent source of information for those preparing to hire movers is the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Protect Your Move website, which is packed with good moving advice and includes a new section on “hostage loads.” The agency notes that “complaints of household goods shipments held hostage are a priority.”
It’s also worth checking the website of the American Moving & Storage Association, an industry group that publishes a code of ethics for its members and professes to actively work to drive scammers and con artists out of business.
Just like the purchase of any other product or service, you want to know who and what you’re dealing with before you sign on the dotted line. Get as much information as possible about who you’re employing, and if you feel a moving company is illegally withholding your possessions, don’t be afraid to call the police.