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How to Avoid a 'Monster Mover'

There are frequent reports in the news of homeowners getting taken advantage of by ‘rogue’ movers. Moving can be stressful enough without a mover taking advantage of you. Making sure your mover is not a rouge one is an important first step when planning your upcoming move.

What is a ‘Rouge Mover’?

Rogue movers are companies that operate without federally required licensing or insurance. This means their clients have no protection in the event property is damaged or lost during the move, a worker gets injured while on the job, and have limited recourse if there is a dispute over billing charges.

The moving industry is federally regulated by the Department of Transportation (DOT) and all movers are required to register with the DOT as a ‘carrier of common household goods.’ As a registered carrier, movers are subjected to regular DOT audits confirming the mover carries the appropriate liability and workers compensation insurance, that they participate in an arbitration program to mediate disputes between Movers and their clients, as well as making sure the movers are operating within all safety guidelines.

Why Do Some Companies ‘Go Rogue’?

Carrying multiple types of insurance and complying with the other requirements of DOT licensing is time-consuming and expensive. Conducting criminal background checks and providing employee training also adds to the significant overhead cost that comes with operating a licensed moving company. By avoiding these costs, a rogue moving company can offer rates that are considerably lower, making them extremely attractive to homeowners. However, while there may be perceived savings, the homeowner is left open to many potential problems.

Operating without federal oversight, rogue movers are also able to take advantage of unsuspecting clients to increase their profits. A common technique employed by these movers is to bait customers with a low estimate, then demand a much higher amount after the truck is loaded and refuse to release the homeowners’ possessions until payment is made.

One widely reported case of moving fraud involved a company called “Monster Movers” that took a Rhode Island couple’s shipment into storage at their warehouse facility, charged the couple outrageous monthly fees and then ‘disappeared’ when the couple requested delivery out of storage. (The full story can be found in the link at the end of this article)

So now you’re wondering “how can I avoid these rouge movers at all costs”?

Spotting a Rogue Mover

Fortunately, there are a few simple steps that homeowners can take to protect themselves and their possessions from unlicensed and uninsured moving companies. Here are 5 tips that will help you avoid a ‘Monster Mover’…

1) Verify Federal Licensing & Insurance
Confirming that a Mover is DOT licensed can be easily done through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s “SAFER” website. By simply entering the company’s name you can review a report that contains the company’s DOT license number and provides detail on their vehicle and driver safety records.

You can also verify that they carry appropriate insurance by requesting a Certificate of Insurance.  Make sure to request a COI that covers general liability, workers compensation and inland marine insurance, which insures your shipment while in transit on the truck.  This is a common request and something the Mover should be able to easily provide.

2) Client Referrals & Online Reviews
Referrals are one great way to find a good mover. Most people start by reaching out to family and friends to ask about movers they have used in the past. Realtors are another great resource for finding a mover. They often have a recommendation for a mover that has moved multiple past clients.

Social media reviews are another easy way to audit a moving company that you are considering. Make sure there are a good number of reviews and that most of them are positive. Reviewing a company’s social media page will also give you some insight into what type of company they are and how they treat their clients.

3) Longevity
Another tactic used by rogue movers is to change their company name frequently. Once negative client reviews and police reports start to pile up, a rogue mover will often just close shop and open again under a new name. For that reason, choosing a company with 10+ years in the industry is good practice. Certainly not all new moving companies are rouge movers, so this should not be your only criteria, but it is one indicator that can help you make a well-informed decision.

4) Check Their Trucks
The DOT requires that moving companies display their DOT number on the doors of every truck they operate. If you don’t see a 7-digit US DOT number displayed on a mover’s truck they are operating illegally. Additionally, most reputable moving companies operate their own trucks which are branded with their company logo. Rogue movers often operate with rented trucks from Ryder, U-Haul or Penske to reduce overhead costs and to quickly ‘change identity’ when necessary.

5) Insist on an In-Home Estimate
Whether it’s a classic in-home walkthrough or a virtual survey done via video chat on your cellphone, make sure the moving company does a visual evaluation of your move to provide an estimate. Not only does this gives you a chance to meet a representative of the company in person, but also allows the mover to identify any moving challenges there might be and plan accordingly.

Once again, rogue movers will save time and cost by providing a vague estimate without visually evaluating the shipment or they will ask you to submit an inventory list to provide you with a quote instead of taking the time to do a professional assessment of the job.

Low Price vs. Total Cost

You didn’t buy your home based solely on price and you certainly shouldn’t choose your mover that way. A licensed mover won’t have the cheapest hourly rate, but they will carry the proper insurance and will employ skilled workers trained to properly handle and protect your possessions during a move. This means a much lower risk of damage and assurance that you are protected should a problem occur or if a dispute over cost arises. Without this protection, your decision to go with the ‘low-cost option’ could become an extremely expensive mistake. It’s important to remember that a quality mover will be transparent about cost and will help you understand opportunities to reduce the overall cost of your move. So, while their hourly rate may be higher, the total cost of your move may be lower than you expect. And your stress level will definitely be lower knowing that you don’t have to worry about the ‘what ifs’ of a rogue move.

Have you ever experienced a ‘monster mover?’ Comment your story below.

(‘Monster Mover’ article: Nightmare Move: Couple frustrated with RI moving company)

Be sure to visit our moving blog for more useful guidance on moving. And check out “Make Your Move Easier” for our tools and resources to reduce the stress and cost of your move.

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