It has been said that, next to divorce and the death of a family member, moving is among the most stressful experiences many people will have in their lifetime. Dealing with a bad moving company makes matters worse.
Federal lawmakers are cracking down on moving companies who try to hold home owners’ belongings hostage during a move — a scam that’s more common than many realize. Home owners will soon have more protection against this increasingly reported rip-off in the moving industry.
It usually involves a moving company providing a home owner with a lowball quote for a move. The mover then packs up the home owner’s belongings onto a truck and refuses to unload it until a higher fee is paid. Some unscrupulous moving companies are notorious for underestimating the weight of items they’ve been hired to transport and even resorting to extreme measures to squeeze a few extra dollars out of their customers — including holding everything a customer owns and cherishes essentially for ransom.
“Aside from being extorted for money, they may even damage your goods,” said Ada Vassilovski, vice president of online marketing and product management for Imagitas in Waltham, Mass., which operates MyMove.com, a resource offering advice for stress-free moves. “If you hire a mover to transport your goods across state lines and they hold your personal property hostage, you can appeal to the Department of Transportation and it now has the power to enforce fines,” she told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
President Barack Obama signed a law last month that will benefit people who think they have been scammed by a moving company. Beginning in October, movers who hold home owners’ items hostage can be fined by up to $10,000 a day, according to new rules imposed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, an agency of the Department of Transportation. Starting in October 2014, new moving company owners will be mandated to pass tests on consumer protection and moving-cost estimates, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
“We are finally seeing recognition that movers holding people’s possessions hostage is a problem,” Vassilovski says. “I don’t think many people are aware of this being a problem, so it’s great this legislation is shining a light on it.”
The Better Business Bureau reports that among the 4,790 industries it monitors, moving companies are No. 10 on the list of those receiving the most consumer complaints. In 2011, the bureau received 1.2 million inquires and complaints against movers. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, on the other hand, received 2,851 complaints that year. The federal agency only counts interstate moves, whereas the BBB data includes both interstate and intrastate moves. Movers used to be regulated by the Interstate Commerce Commission, but in an effort to balance the federal budget, Congress eliminated that agency in 1995.
“This legislation will educate people that there is a problem,” Ms. Vassilovski said. “But if you are moving you need to do your homework to select a mover that is reputable and not chose one based on price alone.”