This story originally appeared on Move.org.
Finding a mover can be tricky, which is why it’s useful to compare moving companies before choosing one to help you relocate. And though moving is hard enough as it is, the moving industry is plagued by predatory businesses and scammers who take advantage of customers.
These moving companies lure in unsuspecting customers with cut-rate prices that are hard to resist, then hold their belongings hostage for more money. Ideally, there would be a list of moving companies that are known to scam their customers, but it’s not that simple.
Moving scams garner a lot of negative reviews that are bad for business. Because of this, moving scams aren’t built to last.
Scammers will usually only run their moving scam long enough to cash in on a few customers, then change the business’s name and website to wipe the slate clean and start the process all over again.
Essentially, once you know a company is a scam, it might have already disappeared.
Fortunately, there’s a small handful of business practices that are dead giveaways for moving scams. Watch out for these types of companies to avoid getting scammed on moving day.
1. The unauthorized company
Legit moving companies have to get authorized for their operations with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, a government agency that keeps tabs on trucking companies. This process isn’t easy and it involves some government scrutiny, so most moving scams skip this step.
If a company isn’t authorized by the FMCSA, you shouldn’t trust it.
To check on a company’s authorization, search for the company using the FMCSA’s Company Snapshot tool. On a moving company’s snapshot page, you’ll see a spreadsheet where you can check if the company is authorized in a field called “Operating Status.”
If the company is authorized, you’re good to go. If the company isn’t authorized or you can’t even find a page for it on the FMCSA website, hire a different company, even if it means paying a higher price.
2. The last-minute price gouge
The last-minute price gouge is the most common type of moving scam. It usually involves giving customers misleading quotes over the phone or online, then increasing the price when the moving crew shows up.
These last-minute price increases can take the form of hidden fees for things like stairs and heavy items, both of which are things that legit companies charge for, but not without telling you before they show up.
Luckily, there’s one foolproof place to check for this type of scam: customer reviews. If companies use dishonest pricing practices and hit their customers with hidden fees on moving day, you better believe that’s gonna show up in their customer reviews.
What if a company doesn’t have any customer reviews, though? This is a huge red flag we’ll talk about next …
3. The unreviewed company
Remember how we said that scammy companies don’t keep the same names or websites very long? This short lifespan means that most scams aren’t around long enough to get reviewed by customers or editorial review sites like Move.org.
If you find a company that has no reviews online, it’s highly possible that it’s a moving scam.
This isn’t a hard and fast rule. An unreviewed company could always just be a nice little mom-and-pop moving company that recently set up shop. If that’s the case, though, it will usually still have the proper authorization from the FMCSA.
If you’re unsure if you’re looking at a moving scam or a fledgling moving company, look it up on the FMCSA website. And if you’ve had some bad experiences of your own in the past and want to help other folks avoid bad moving companies, you can file an official complaint.
4. The company that charges by the cubic foot
Most moving companies charge by weight, meaning they total up the weight of every piece of furniture they’re going to move for you and charge you a certain amount for every pound. They might also add things like fuel surcharges, hourly rates and add-on service prices.
Moving scams, on the other hand, sometimes charge by cubic foot. This means that instead of charging you per pound, they’ll charge you for every cubic foot your stuff will take up in the moving truck.
While this practice isn’t necessarily dishonest in itself, it is typical among scammy companies. You should take it as a signal to look deeper into the company’s third-party reviews and authorization before hiring it.
We also want to point out that a few legit companies charge based on cubic feet, but that’s pretty rare.
5. The company that gives nonbinding estimates
One of the most important parts of any moving estimate is the inspection that happens beforehand. Most legit companies will send someone to your house to conduct an in-home appraisal before asking you to sign anything.
This guarantees that the company knows what you’re hiring them to move, and it allows the company to give you the most accurate quote. After the in-home estimate, the company will ask you to sign a “binding estimate” that locks your price in as long as you don’t add anything to your move, like an extra bed or an add-on service.
If a company asks you to sign something before doing an appraisal, it might be a moving scam. Don’t sign anything until you look into the company’s history and customer reviews a little more, even if it means walking away from a stellar price.
There are exceptions to this rule, though. Some companies will send you binding estimates if you submit an online inventory or do a thorough estimate over the phone. If the estimate that the company asks you to sign doesn’t say “binding estimate” on it, though, your price could change even if you don’t change anything about your move.
Keep your eyes open
There are a lot of scammy companies in the moving industry, but there are plenty of honest companies as well. It can be hard to tell the difference at first glance, but if you watch out for these signs of a moving scam, you can keep you and your belongings safe from companies that might try to take advantage of your situation.
If you don’t want to start your search from scratch, check out a reviewed list of top moving companies you can trust.
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