BALTIMORE (WMAR) - There's a lot of trust involved in moving. You're paying someone to pack up everything you own and move it cross-country. What you don't want is to hire a company with a high-number of complaints.
For several weeks, ABC2’s Mallory Sofastaii has reported on specific companies and how they've disrupted the lives of their customers.
It's tough to find a way out, so we want to help you avoid becoming trapped.
Interstate moving is a business where some bad actors see opportunity.
“We call them rogue operators or something other than a mover because in many cases they're really not trying to move people,” said Scott Michael, President & CEO of the American Moving and Storage Association (AMSA).
If you take a look at the Office of Inspector General's most wanted list, you'll see a multitude of offenders. Thirty-five of 40 are wanted for moving fraud.
There are regulations, but the red tape doesn't hold off the criminals.
“The license for a federal move, an interstate move is very easy to get. It's about $300, fill-out some paperwork and you're given a license,” Michael said.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulates all moves that cross state lines. According to the U.S. Census, there are about 800,000 interstate moves each year and approximately 3,000 complaints annually.
It's a small fraction, but when you fall in that percentage it's like falling down a rabbit hole. Answers don't come easy and convincing the company to return your things is even more of a challenge.
“They have everything that you own and quite a bit of leverage over you to make sure that you comply with what they're asking for,” Michael said.
It's not what moving victims want to hear, but your best protection is not hiring these people in the first place. The government launched an educational campaign and website around this called “Protect Your Move.”
Your research should begin about eight weeks out from the move.
Three things to remember:
Verify their identity. Check the company’s reviews and ratings on the Better Business Bureau. See if they’re in the American Moving and Storage Association “ProMover” program. Confirm they have an active DOT license through the FMCSA database and review their complaint history.
Seek three in-home written estimates. Never do it over the phone. Movers need to see what you have for an accurate assessment. There are binding and nonbinding estimates. Even with a nonbinding estimate, movers are required by law to deliver your goods for no more than 10 percent above the estimate.
“Some cases the bad guys don't list a physical address on their website, so that can be a red flag,” said Michael.
Too many people have hired rogue operators. You shouldn't have to play detective but since there isn't robust oversight by the government your belongings, your valuables, and your memories could easily fall into the wrong hands.
Rogue operators are tricky. They know what they're doing and what to say to get you to trust them. Shutting these companies down takes time and resources, which is why education is the FMCSA's best weapon.
Change, however, could be on the horizon. A working group of industry professionals met last year to discuss concerns and propose solutions. The FMCSA has not said when they will release their final report and recommendations.
To see more of Mallory's reporting on moving companies, click the links below.