The Rental Market

3 moving scams you should know about—and 10 ways to avoid getting duped

By Hong Le | May 1, 2012 - 8:17AM

Moving apartments is up there with some of life’s biggest stressors, and even the simplest moves (say, within your own building), can cause some anxiety (so many boxes! so much stuff to pack! and where is it all going to fit once you’re there?!). Add any amount of shadiness from your mover, and that stress can get out of control.

Here are some of the most common NYC moving scams:

  • Bait and switch: A mover offers you a great estimate (it'll usually seem too good to be true--which is why it's important to get several estimates) and then ups the price when it is too late to back out (like moving day). 
  • The "hostage situation": Your belongings are held hostage and the only way to get them back is to pay more money. Sometimes this con is pulled in conjunction with the bait and switch -- they can threaten to keep your things in their truck until you pay them.
  • Phantom delivery: A mover will load your belongings and promise to deliver them by a certain date. But you never see the mover, or your stuff, again. 

“The best single piece of guidance is  ‘Know who you are dealing with,’” advises John Bisney, of the American Moving & Storage Association. 

Here are 10 strategies for avoiding being a victim of a moving scam.

1. Ask friends. The best way to find a good mover is to get a recommendation from someone you know who’s had a good experience recently (say, in the last six months or so).

2. Check the reviews. Go on sites like Yelp, Citymove, and Angi and read as many reviews as possible—both the pros and cons for balanced feedback. You can also call the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Safety Violation and Consumer Complaints hotline (888-368-7238) to find out if there have been any complaints filed against the moving company. 

3. Always take a look at the website.  If a moving company’s website has no physical address or phone number and looks like it was made by a high schooler, it probably was. You want to find a company that has been around long enough to acquire a solid reputation and intends to stick around, so that it has a strong interest in maintaining a good reputation. 

4. Make sure your mover is authorized to move you. For moves within NYC, make sure your mover is licensed to operate by the New York State Department of Transportation (for verification call 800-786-5368 or email [email protected]). Again, every reputable moving company will be licensed, and by law, should provide their up-to-date license information which you should find on their website. If you can pull up the record of the moving company by entering the license number at the FMCSA website, that's a big indication that the company is serious about the business. 

5. Meet your movers in person. No phone. No email. No Facebook. Meet them face-to-face so you know exactly who you will be dealing with from beginning to end. Also make sure any estimates are done in your apartment to avoid any surprises. This way, they know exactly the items that need to be moved and can give a more accurate estimate.

6. Get everything in writing. Your mover should give you this booklet outlining expectations for both of you, a handwritten estimate, an order for service (an unofficial contract listing of all the services the mover will perform including the dates your stuff will be picked up and delivered), and the bill of lading (an official contract between you and the mover that explains, among other things, the mover's responsibility for damages) at the time of loading.

 7. Do not give a deposit. If the company asks for a large, up-front deposit, run away as fast as you can. Reputable movers never ask for deposits. Rather, the agreement to pay the full charges are stated in bill of lading. Generally, you should be paying upon delivery.

8. Pick a mover that offers both fixed rate and hourly rates. This way you can compare costs depending on how big and far your move is. If you are moving from, say, the Upper West Side to Williamsburg with a large amount of items, it might be better to have a fixed rate. An hourly rate is best for those with little to move.

9. Get multiple in-home estimates. Have several companies come to your apartment to provide an estimate of how much everything will cost. There can be large ranges between different companies.

10. Make sure you understand what you're covered for if something breaks or goes missing  

The minimum coverage required by New York State law is $.30 per pound per article. For example, if a 20-pound flat screen, valued at $1,000, were lost or damaged, the mover would be liable for no more than $6 (20 pounds x .30 cents).  Minimum coverages for interstate moves, which are federally regulated, can be found here.

The other option is to buy full replacement value protection, meaning all items that are lost, broken or damaged will be either repaired, replaced with like items, or get a cash settlement. The exact cost for full value protection may vary by mover, so be sure to ask.

You may also have the option to purchase additional insurance from a third party (like, your own insurance agent, or an insurance broker. If you have a homeowner's insurance policy, find out whether it covers property in transit.

Ask your mover to explain the cost and various coverage options available for your particular type of move. Be sure to read your bill of lading (which sets forth the liability of the mover for loss and damage) and check off the option you prefer.  Interstate moves are regulated by the federal government which require all movers to have insurance.

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How to bed bug proof your move

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Rental Rookie: In NYC, stick with the smallest U-Haul


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