Protect yourself from unscrupulous moving companies

It is said that moving is one of the leading sources of stress people face.

Now add to that stress a warning from of all groups the American Moving & Storage Association: "In a common worst-case scenario, the moving company will essentially hold customer's belongings hostage and require potentially thousands of dollars to unload the truck."

(New inductees to the Greedy Family: unscrupulous moving companies. There were 8,900 complaints to the Better Business Bureau in 2009 about moving companies.)

"Virtually anyone with a truck and a website can claim to be a mover, and they can't all be trusted to adhere to standards for honesty and ethical conduct," Linda Bauer Darr, president of the moving and storage association, said in a statement ahead of a conference call on Monday about the summer moving season.

Dan Downs of Palmetto knows all to well about the issue of furniture as a hostage.

Downs' daughter, Samantha Pappas, and her husband hired a South Florida moving company to carry their belongs to New Hampshire 21/2 weeks ago.

The company, Van Lines of America (not to be confused with North American Van Lines), gave an initial estimate of $800. After workers loaded the truck, Downs said they told his daughter it would cost more than $2,000.

"There was a promise; there was a contract," Downs said. "Once things started unfolding, everything changed on the part of the moving company."

Downs said they asked the movers to unloaded the truck. To do so, Downs said, they now faced a 25 percent cancellation charge.

Van Lines of America did not respond to messages.

Downs called the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees moving companies. After the agency contacted the moving company, the furniture arrived in New Hampshire — on Thursday, 21/2 weeks after it was put on the truck.

"Once these people get your stuff, you're pretty much over a barrel," Downs said.

So here's the Edge, courtesy of the American Moving & Storage Association and the BBB.

• Research the company. While state regulations vary, all interstate movers must, at minimum, be licensed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and are assigned a motor carrier number you can verify at protectyourmove.gov. Check the company's rating with the BBB.

• Get at least three in-home estimates. No legitimate mover will offer to give you a firm estimate online or over the phone. Know that the lowest estimate can sometimes be an unrealistic low-ball offer which can cost you more in the end.

• Know your rights. Research your rights as a consumer with both the state you currently reside in and where you are moving to. And check with the BBB or local law enforcement if the moving company fails to live up to its promises or decides to hold your belongings hostage.

• Get more tips and information at the Transportation Department's site, protectyourmove.gov; and the moving and storage association's website moving.org. To research a mover or find your nearest Better Business Bureau, visitbbb.org.

Ivan Penn can be reached at ipenn@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2332. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/consumers_edge and find Consumer's Edge on Facebook.

Protect yourself from unscrupulous moving companies 05/07/10 [Last modified: Friday, May 7, 2010 10:09pm]

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