The Better Business Bureau said an in-depth study into the moving industry indicates COVID-19 is causing more Americans to consider moving.
Whether to distance themselves from dense urban areas or relocate for another job, many individuals said the virus impacted their decision to move.
A survey by Apartment List, found that people who are currently moving are more likely to be renters, people living in dense urban areas and people who have been recently laid off.
Of respondents who said they were looking for cheaper housing, 41 percent listed being laid off due to the coronavirus as one of their top reasons for moving. About 31 percent said being laid off due to the virus is causing them to move to a location with more economic opportunity.
The BBB said they are receiving thousands of complaints about fraudulent movers who are demanding unexpected fees and holding people’s belongings hostage. These situations seem to be happening more frequently when individuals move from one state to another, where it can be more difficult to track, and people are without their belongings for a longer period of time.
The BBB study highlights the risk of using a mover found online.
While a company may have a well-designed website boasting years of experience and satisfied customers, red flags may pop up with the company cannot complete an in-person inspection and estimate.
In light of the virus, some reputable moving company have technology to allow virtual estimates, far different than potential scammers that just discuss items over the phone.
Representatives may claim to be local, but in some cases the company is out of state and pays for a local post office box address. The BBB found a large number of these fraudulent moving companies are based in South Florida.
An initial too-good-to-be-true estimate quickly increases when the company claims the customer has more belongings than they originally estimated.
These fraudulent movers then demand additional fees before loading and unloading the truck and may not deliver items for days, or even weeks, after the customer moves in.
In some cases, the original company hires local temporary workers with a rented truck to act as a broker for another company.
“Most people only move a few times in their lives, so hiring a mover may be an unfamiliar process that leaves them vulnerable to scams,” says Phylissia Clark, VP of Public Relations and Communications for BBB Serving North Central Texas. “The good news is that there are reputable movers. Unfortunately, they are competing with movers that just don’t care about ethics or honesty. This puts the burden on customers to do thorough research to avoid excessive expense and heartache.”
Of the 4,780 complaints filed with the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a branch of the U.S. Department of Transportation that regulates interstate and international moves, about 57 percent of complaints involved overcharging.
It is believed that fewer than 10 percent of moving complaints are filed with the BBB, according to the Federal Trade Commission, so figuring out the scope and severity of the problem is difficult.
The BBB said in the North Central Texas area, there are 75 moving companies that have an “F” rating, largely due to practices similar to the ones described in the study.
BBB serving North Central Texas cautions residents to be selective when hiring a mover.
Customers who have their belongings held hostage by a fraudulent mover can contact MoveRescue for help. The group was created by reputable moving companies Mayflower and United Van Lines to provide free help to victims of moving scams.
Victims are asked to provide copies of the moving contracts so the organization can reach out to the moving company and negotiate a way to have the good delivered.
MoveRescue also works to track moving scammers and report situations to FMCSA so the agency can take action.
The BBB study said the best way to avoid moving scams is to do careful research before hiring a company. Customers can look up a moving company’s license number on the FMCSA website and they can review the business’ BBB profile at http://www.bbb.org.
If a person is a victim of a moving scam they should:
- File a report with local police
- Contact MoveRescue at http://www.moverescue.com or 1-800-832-1773.
- File a complaint at BBB.org or report to Scam Tracker.
- File a complaint with the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration online or by calling 1-888-368-7238. While they do not represent individual complaints, they can track complains and will request the mover’s license number.
- File a complaint with the insurer listed in the moving contract.
Claire Kowalick, a senior journalist for the Times Record News, covers local government, military and MSU Texas. If you have a news tip, contact Claire at email@example.com.
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