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Moving Fraud: How to Prevent It from Happening to You

Erica C R Costello


  • Moving fraud, individuals falling victim to fraud and scams during the moving process, is becoming more prevalent, citing statistics from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
  • Common warning signs, or "red flags," that consumers should be wary of when considering hiring a moving company is if the moving “brokers” give low estimates over the phone or online without visiting your home or they demand more money to deliver or unload your items and “hold your goods hostage” or force you to pay more to get your items back.
  • Some practical advice on how to prevent and address moving fraud includes checking the registration status of movers, filing complaints with relevant authorities, and staying informed about potential risks.
Moving Fraud: How to Prevent It from Happening to You

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Moving can be an exciting, yet challenging, time in a person’s life. According to the United States Census Bureau, an estimated 27.1 million Americans moved in the United States last year. From getting a quote for moving costs to figuring out which items will be making the trip, the whole venture can result in a lot of chaos and stress. There are many things to take into consideration before moving, including: 1) where is the best place to live; 2) how much will it cost to move my items; 3) how much downsizing should I do to save on moving costs; and 4) how much insurance do I need to cover the cost of moving my items to the new place?

Unfortunately, moving can also make people exceptionally vulnerable to fraud and scams. In 2018, more than 5,900 consumers filed moving fraud complaints with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) part of the United States Department of Transportation (United States Department of Transportation, Learn About Moving Fraud, 2022). Of these complaints, 57% reported overcharging, 39% reported loss or damage to property, and 7% reported hostile situations while loading. Id. Indeed, moving fraud costs consumers millions of dollars in time and money each year, with an average reported loss around $16,200 per claim. Id.

Imagine this scenario: You and your family look forward to moving to another state—the type of move about 4 million people make each year. Id. To begin the process, you conduct an internet search for moving companies and contact a company found in your online search. After providing the company with a detailed list of items that you intend to take, the company provides you with a quote. The quote is, in hindsight, suspiciously low—in any event much lower than you expected. “What a deal!” you think. You then sign a contract with the moving company, provide a deposit, and arrange the dates to move-out and move-in to your new location.

On the move-out date, a subcontractor of the moving company shows up to move your items. Looking around, the subcontractor claims that there are “more items” than originally estimated. In fact, the subcontractor now requires you to sign a new contract, doubles the estimate, and requires that you pay a premium to ensure that your items will be delivered by the date to which you originally agreed. They also demand that the money be wired to them by the next day. You and your family are stuck in a lose-lose situation. You will either lose time and money having to arrange for another moving company or lose money paying the shady subcontractor (with whom you did not originally contract).

Welcome to the world of moving fraud—where the above-referenced scenario happens more often than you might think. In April of 2019, the FMCSA’s Moving Fraud Task Force shut down five moving companies in Florida, South Carolina, and Maryland for holding customers’ items hostage and for failing to turn over records related to their investigation (United States Department of Transportation, Newsroom, 2019). That same year, the FMCSA also levied $56,000 in civil penalties against three moving companies in Chicago Id.

This year, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania also indicted two moving company operators on charges of wire fraud, interstate transportation of property obtained by fraud, and aggravated identity theft (United States Department of Justice, 2022). According to the indictment, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigated the moving company operators and found that they created false “5-Star” reviews on their website and legitimate business review websites to trick customers into booking their services. They also routinely increased the estimates of their fees, both before the move and after the items were loaded onto the moving truck. Id. The operators then refused to deliver the items if the customer refused to pay the increased price. As a result, the indictment alleges, the operators fraudulently obtained more than $12 million. If convicted, they face a maximum sentence of more than 300 months in prison and up to $6.25 million in fines. Id.

So, what are common warning signs to watch out for when considering hiring a moving company? The FMCSA suggests that consumers be wary of moving “brokers” who typically give low estimates over the phone or online without visiting your home (United States Department of Transportation, Spot the Red Flags, 2022). They also suggest consumers be wary of movers who demand more money to deliver or unload your items and “hold your goods hostage,” or force you to pay more to get your items back. Id. According to the FMCSA, the following actions are also “red flags” for moving fraud:

  • The mover or broker does not provide you with a written quote or estimate.
  • The moving company requires cash or a large deposit before the move.
  • The mover asks you to sign blank documents.
  • The mover is not registered online with the Federal government or insured.
  • The mover does not provide you with a copy of the “Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move” booklet and a copy of the FMCSA’s “Ready to Move” brochure (which is required by federal regulations to be provided to all customers).
  • The movers claim you have more items than estimated.

Fortunately, if you are a victim of moving fraud, there are several ways you can seek to remedy or resolve the situation. The FMSCA suggests that consumers first attempt to work out an agreement with the mover. However, if you are unsuccessful in reaching an agreement, you can seek an arbitration hearing or initiate a legal action against the mover (United States Department of Justice, Help Post-Move, 2022). According to the FMSCA, movers are required by the federal regulations to have an arbitration program or legal process to resolve disputes about property loss or damage and mover charges. (Note: the mover may refuse to participate in arbitration if the amount of your claim exceeds $10,000).

You can also file a complaint against the mover with the FMSCA. The FMSCA has an online complaint tool that consumers can fill out, or consumers can make the complaint by calling 1-888-368-7238. When filing a complaint, consumers may be asked to provide the following information: their contact information; the contact information of the moving company, broker or auto transporter; the origin and destination of the shipment; the US Department of Transportation registration information (if available); details of the alleged violations; and for any pertinent moving documents, including the Estimate, Bill of Lading, and/or Inventory pages. Id. A complaint will be maintained as part of the moving company’s record on file with the FMSCA and may trigger a federal investigation against the mover. Id.

You may also able be to file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office or Consumer Protection Bureau in your state. To find state enforcement resources for suspected moving fraud in your state, consumers can go to the following website: Filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) may be another option to help you resolve the situation. Consumers can file a complaint with the BBB by going to the following website: (Note: any complaint filed with the BBB, will be forwarded to the moving company within two business days and the mover will have two weeks to respond to the complaint).

Moving fraud is a costly crime that affects thousands of consumers in the United States each year. When making plans to move, consumers should always exercise extreme care and caution. They should insist that the moving company provide a written estimate up front and ask if they will use subcontractors for the move (which creates a greater risk of changes to the original estimate). Consumers should also check to make sure that the mover and broker are registered with the FMCSA, as well as check for any complaints that may have been made against them. If they are not registered with the FMCSA, consumers should avoid using them and seek out bids from other registered companies. (Consumers can check the registration status of movers and brokers, along with insurance information and any complaint records, through the following database,, or by contacting the FMCSA at 800-832-5660).

Consumers should also watch for any of the “red flags” of moving fraud and cease contact with suspicious or untrustworthy moving companies.

Remember: the best defense to moving fraud is a good offense. By staying informed and vigilant, you can greatly reduce your risk of becoming a victim, while protecting your valuable time, money, state of mind, and property.

Works Cited