NEW YORK (MainStreet)You've packed up everything you own, the moving guys have put it all on the truck and are ready to roll, when suddenly the driver tells you the price for the move has gone up. Way up. And if you don't agree to pay the additional fees, he is going to drive right off with all of your stuff and sell it at auction.
Talk about a nightmare. Packing up and relocating is traumatic enough without facing some kind of high drama with the moving company. But rogue carriers are more common than you may think, and they're looking for their next unsuspecting victim.
According to Consumer Reports, a sting operation last year in New Jersey resulted in fines against 25 unlicensed moving companies found through online advertising. Several movers had outstanding warrants, including two that were being sought by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. Meanwhile, the state of Massachusetts sued one moving company and New Jersey officials sued two others for gouging consumers with low-ball pre-move estimates which were inflated by thousands of dollars -- after the truck was loaded. Threatening to auction off the possessions of customers that refused to pay the hostage ransom? That really happened.
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Consumer protection laws differ from state to state, and your rights can even vary according to whether you're moving between states or within one. Consumer Reports offers these tips:
- Get recommendations. Picking a mover based solely on an ad online or otherwise is usually not a good idea. Like most everything else, referrals from family and friends are best. A trusted real estate agent will usually know reliable movers, too. Get estimates from at least three companies and verify their business addresses. And be wary of movers in unmarked trucks or companies that require large deposits.
- Verify licensing. Interstate movers are licensed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. You can screen moving companies and find additional resources at protectyourmove.gov.
- Check for complaints. Check with the Better Business Bureau for complaints on the moving company you are considering. And search the company's name online to find reviews and complaints and to verify the information they have provided.
- Know your rights. Read the booklet "Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move" for useful tips, though the rights disclosed may not apply to in-state movers. You will find it under the "Are You Moving?" tab at protectyourmove.gov. The national trade association of household goods movers, the American Moving and Storage Association, has additional information at its website, moving.org.
- Making Complaints. After items are loaded on the truck you should be provided with a detailed inventory. Don't sign it until you are sure that everything arrived at your destination securely. If you find items are missing or damaged after the move, file a complaint immediately. If things get a bit dicey your possessions are being held hostage, or you think you're getting ripped off, call the police.
--Written by Hal M. Bundrick