By David McMillin

Moving all of your belongings is never an easy process, and plenty of fraudsters are looking to capitalize on the stress that comes with packing, relocating, and heading to a new home. So as you look for a company to haul all your boxes, watch out for these common moving scams:

Four moving scams and ways to avoid them

1. A low estimate turns into a high bill

When you’re trying to find movers, chances are you’re already paying lots of other expenses, so it’s human nature to look for a good deal. However, one of the most common moving scams involves attracting your business with a bargain offer. When movers arrive at your place to load your boxes onto a truck, a representative informs you that you have more belongings than expected and need to pay more money. You’re in a bigger bind if it’s moving day; you won’t have the luxury to call and hire another moving company. With nowhere else to turn, you hand over far more cash than you planned.

2. You pay a ransom to get your stuff

When you move, you’re trusting someone you don’t know to transport some of your most valuable possessions. For scammers, that value means they have the upper hand. Think of a movie that involves a hostage situation where the hijacker demands a ransom to free a captive. The same scenario can play out in moving, too. While fraudulent movers won’t hold a person hostage, they might tell you that they’ll keep your belongings unless you hand over more money.

3. A deposit doesn’t deliver any services

The moving company tells you that you’ll need to put down a 50 percent deposit to lock in their services. When moving day arrives, no one shows up, and no one answers your calls. You paid $2,500 for nothing. Some moving companies ask for a small deposit, but this is fairly rare and typically applies to long-distance interstate moves only.

4. Your belongings are nowhere to be found

The company picked everything up and promised to deliver your stuff within the next seven to 10 days. You drove across the country. You’re settling into your new home, but there is one problem: You don’t have anything. It’s been two weeks. It stretches into three weeks. You’ve lost everything. 

How to avoid a moving scam

These common moving scams are nightmares for new homeowners. So as you begin your search for movers, follow these tips to steer clear of common scams, traps, and troubles:

  • Make sure the company has a physical mailing address. A PO Box address for a moving company is a shady sign. When researching moving companies, verify that there’s a physical location with an office. If it’s just a PO Box, going after the company if your items are lost, damaged, or stolen can prove to be impossible.
  • A website doesn’t equal a good business. It’s easy to design a website. It’s harder — and costs more money — to obtain a business license and join the American Trucking Association’s Moving & Storage Conference, a professional organization for moving companies. Dig around to verify that the company has done more than merely put up an online front.
  • Ask for quotes from multiple companies. Don’t settle for the first estimate you receive. Just like you shopped around for the perfect place to live, take the same approach to find the best company to help you move there.
  • Get an in-person estimate. If you’re relocating to another part of the country, any reputable — and trustworthy — moving company will visit your home to provide an accurate estimate. However, this might not be as common if you’re moving locally.
  • Don’t assume the lowest price is the best option. Your bed, couch, tables and more — everything you care about is all going on a truck. This is worth making an investment to ensure everything is safe. As you compare your quotes, be skeptical of any too-good-to-be-true, lowball figures. 
  • Watch out for blank contracts. A moving contract should have every line completed. Blank forms or unfilled spaces only leave a scammer room to adjust your contract and claim you signed a different agreement.
  • Pay with a credit card. Credit cards offer the best protection for consumers. If a company asks for payment in cash, you’d have no record of the transaction.  
  • Do your research. In addition to looking for online reviews from other customers, the government maintains a list of safety records and complaints against all licensed moving companies. The directory from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) — a U.S. Department of Transportation division — is a helpful resource if you’re moving across state lines. 
  • Be ready for the brochure. According to the FMCSA, your movers are required to give you a copy of the “Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move” handbook and the “Ready to Move” brochure. If you don’t receive them, it’s a red flag. 

What to do if you’ve been targeted

If you believe you’re a victim of a moving scam, you’re not alone. The Better Business Bureau receives an average of 13,000 complaints about moving companies each year. Fortunately, you have a few options to pursue a scammer:

  • Call the police. If your goods have vanished and don’t get a call back from the moving company, call your local police. Stealing your belongings is a crime; the police might have encountered the criminals in other incidents.  
  • File a complaint with MoveRescue. Because many scams have created a bad reputation for movers, two of the industry’s leading companies, United Van Lines and Mayflower, maintain MoveRescue. You can submit a complaint with the company’s Department of Transportation license number in the hopes of securing assistance.
  • File a complaint with the government. The FMCSA also accepts complaints about moving scams. While the agency might not be able to help you directly, your complaint can help prevent others from falling into the same trap.

This article is also posted on Bankrate here.