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Moving targets: How to avoid moving company scams

As if moving wasn’t stressful enough, you’re sure to receive half-whispered warnings when you tell people you’re hiring professional movers. While the stories of moving scams abound, there are a few simple steps you can take to protect yourself and make sure the company you hire is on the up and up.

Protecting yourself is as easy as doing some simple research, preparing your belongings properly, and being a savvy consumer. Here are some tips that will help you avoid becoming the target of a moving scam.

Finding a moving company

1. Get recommendations from a trusted source. You gotta start somewhere, and that should be a person you know who’s either moved recently, or whose business puts them in regular contact with moving companies. Nothing beats a firsthand recommendation. If you don’t know anyone who’s had a good moving experience, you can ask those who have a professional interest in knowing reputable movers: real estate agents, interior designers or retailers who sell home goods like furniture and appliances.

2. Check out the movers’ online reputations. Once you have a few names in hand, it’s time to Google. Search phrases like “[Name of moving company] scam” or “[Name of moving company] reputation” to get more targeted results. And, of course, check out any user reviews on sites such as Yelp or Google Local (found within Google Maps). Movingscam.com and ProtectYourMove.gov are also valuable resources.

Get it in writing

3. The moving company conducts a home

visit. Ask your top pick to do a home visit. Show the movers the specifics: how many rooms, the size of the furniture, how many flights of stairs they’ll have to walk up and down. It’s important to note any specialty items that will be moving with you, such as a piano, large works of art, large plants, furniture that doesn’t break down easily, appliances, and anything else that would require special attention. You’re sure to get some bonus points if you go over the measurements of your doorways, hallways, and any large furniture that might not fit through them easily. The movers should be able to suggest how to move even the most awkward or bulky pieces.

4. Get a written estimate. Now that the movers have a clear idea of what they’ll be hauling, ask for a detailed quote in writing. Then, together, go over each item line by line to make sure you understand what all they entail. Some of the definitions may surprise you: Is a box considered “packed” if it’s closed but not taped? Do the two steps down from your front door count as a flight of stairs? Will they provide dollies and padded blankets for free? Or is there an additional fee? Will they add a gratuity charge for the moving crew to the final bill, or is tipping the movers and the driver left to your discretion? Asking about these things might seem nitpicky, but they’ll save you from the unwelcome surprise of any hidden charges that might pop up later. Finally, do not sign anything that is blank or incomplete.

5. What’s their policy regarding items and/or property that gets lost or damaged during the move? Should the worst happen, you need to know what recourse you have. Ask how they handle claims of lost or damaged items, as well as any damage that might occur to either your old home or your new place.

Check their background

6. Make sure the company is licensed and insured. A reputable moving company will have all of their paperwork in order. Some states require movers to be licensed with the state’s Department of Transportation and/or the federal D.O.T. Make sure your mover is registered with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and they have a Motor Carrier number for their vehicles (which means their trucks are approved for operation on the road). Also ask for a certificate of insurance that details how much their policy covers; you want to be sure you’re covered in case of damage or injury.

7. Who are their workers? You’re bringing strangers into your home and trusting them with your life’s possessions. Therefore, being concerned about safety is only rational. Ask about their screening process for workers. Ask if background checks are performed. Some companies might subcontract their laborers and have no idea who they’re sending to your home.

Keep track of your stuff

8. Clearly label your boxes and other items. Different companies have different methods of labeling. Some will provide labels; but it never hurts to have your own set handy — just in case. Not only do you want to mark where your boxes should go once they arrive at their destination (KITCHEN, LIVING ROOM, etc.), but you should include your name, contact information, and both the origin and destination address. Yep, on every box. (Preprinting a bunch of labels makes it easy to just slap them on as you go.) That might seem like overkill; but for long hauls where you can’t keep an eye on your stuff at all times, it’s a good idea. Also consider using a label or other unique sticker to “seal” your boxes so you can tell if they’ve been opened at some point during their journey.

9. Make an inventory and take pictures. A couple of moves ago, I knew I was going to put most of my stuff in storage because I was moving into a small home temporarily. As I packed my things and decided what I’d need in my new place and what I wouldn’t, I wrote down the contents of every single box and then entered that info into a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet contained the name of each object, the number of the box, a description of the box, and where the box ended up, whether it went into storage or came with me to my temporary space. If I found myself looking for something — such as a book or a particular kitchen utensil — I could look it up in my spreadsheet.

This will help you not only track your belongings as they move (which will also prove they were accounted for prior to the move, should they go missing), but also prioritize your unpacking. If you don’t have time to create an item-by-item spreadsheet, take a picture of the contents of each box. Then back up those photos — they won’t do you any good if your camera or phone gets lost during the move! If you want to get fancy, you can also use apps like Delicious Library to keep things sorted.

Be a good customer

10. Be cool. Don’t be a jerk. While this last piece of advice should be a no-brainer, here’s your reminder, just in case: If you treat your movers with respect, they’ll treat you and your stuff with respect. Your efforts to make their job easier will be appreciated. Provide water, snacks, and a place to use the restroom and freshen up. Make sure there are extra packing supplies and markers on hand, and give them your cell phone number as well as printed directions to their destination (they probably have GPS, but it never hurts!). Get the driver’s cell phone number too, in case there’s an emergency and you can’t get a hold of anyone at the moving company office. And finally, have some cash on hand to tip your movers (standard tip is between $20 and $30 per mover). That’s one way to make sure everyone goes home happy — including you.