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What to Do When Movers Break, Steal or Won’t Give Back Your Stuff

Posted in: I'm Moving, Regulations

At HireAHelper, we hear other people’s stories of bad movers all the time.

Whether these stories come to us through emails or from customers calling us after a moving company has wronged them, these same cries come up time and again: “All my stuff is missing,” or “All my stuff is damaged,” or even worse, “My movers are holding my stuff for ransom!”

There’s one word we always hear from these customers-turned-victims: “helpless”.

In these situations, it’s painfully clear: these movers aren’t playing by the rules. But what recourse do you actually have when your movers refuse to pay for damages, replace missing items, or opt to not deliver your stuff unless you fork over another thousand bucks?

Unprofessional movers get away with a lot of crap. That’s the unfortunate truth. But if you believe your movers have acted illegally and they aren’t taking responsibility, there are ways to fight back.

Here are four options you should immediately explore.

Alert your state’s Consumer Affairs Division.

Not only can investigators help you resolve your complaint about broken items or track down your stuff – or your movers – but they may also work with law enforcement authorities in getting unlicensed, unethical and illegal movers off the streets, just as they have in New Jersey. From New Jersey’s official website:

“Horror stories about predatory movers are all too common. By its very nature, the moving industry touches the lives of consumer when they are vulnerable and when they must rely on strangers to transport their valued possessions,” Acting Attorney General Hoffman said. “These situations create the potential for abuse. We are enforcing New Jersey’s licensing laws in order to protect consumers and, just as importantly, to ensure a level playing field for New Jersey’s many honest and licensed moving companies.”

Movers must usually be licensed with the state. (Here’s a list to check your’s.) If they are doing moves across state lines, they must additionally be licensed by the federal government. Cross-checking this with your Consumer Affairs Division is a quick way to begin the resolution process. Get ahold of Consumer Affairs Division in your state via this directory, which is a government-run database with the corresponding phone number, website and/or email address of your local division’s office.

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If this was an interstate move, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) can also get involved. How they can help, along with the info and links you need, can be found on their Protect Your Move page. Their toll-free hotline is 1-888-368-7238.

Call your local police.

In the past, there was not much local law enforcement could do in disputes between moving companies and customers due to the fact such disputes are civil and not yet criminal matters. But recent changes in some states’ laws have given those local authorities the power to mediate; In particular, some laws now intervene when a moving company is sitting outside a customer’s home demanding more money before they unload.

Just this year, Arizona passed House Bill 2145which in Arizona requires moving companies to unload customers’ belongings in case of a dispute regarding payment on an intrastate move. We’d hope that this would be standard lawful procedure across the country, but sadly not all states are up to speed on this loophole.

But regardless of civil versus criminal matters, a mover being properly licensed is something the police can act on. Knowledge is power – but only if it is used! 

Get in touch with MoveRescue.

This organization can assist you by obtaining information on your move, advising you as to your options and, in some hostage situations, working with the moving company to get your goods released. Plus, they’re vetted by United and Mayflower, two of the larger Full-Service moving companies in the industry. 

From their website:

Approximately 1.6 million Americans hire interstate household goods movers each year. Unfortunately, a reported 3,000 cases of possible mover fraud occur annually. Many of these cases involve criminals who offer low estimates and then hold customers’ possessions hostage in undisclosed warehouses, demand thousands of dollars in additional payments and threaten auction. MoveRescue is devoted to ending this problem by seeing that moving companies abide by the federal consumer protection regulations.

Move Rescue does offer a disclaimer that they cannot offer immediate and complete assistance to everyone who calls. Call them anyway: 800-832-1773.

Contact your local news.

More often than not, whenever we do hear of a customer finally getting their belongings delivered it was because they sought the help of a local news station. In this case, the victim had refused to pay her movers what amounted to extortion, and the movers drove off with her stuff. The victim then contacted a local news station and their consumer reporter got the recovery ball rolling by calling the FMCSA, who got right to work. From WFTV9:

“Every day I don’t have my stuff, I can’t work, it’s put me farther and farther behind,” said Smith as she fought back tears.

Todd Ulrich contacted the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration that oversees interstate moves.

After federal regulators reviewed the company’s estimates, and the final bill, the agency took action. It ordered the company to honor the $1,200 estimate and return her belongings or face a possible $10,000 fine.

“They felt there was negligence, and generally they were out of compliance,” said Smith

A week later the mover released the storage unit address and key.

Smith took a huge step toward starting her new life in Winter Park.

“I don’t believe I would have gotten here this quickly without your intervention, so I appreciate it,” she said.

Understand that the process took weeks, not minutes. If you find yourself the victim of a bad bunch of movers, you may also need weeks, or even months, to get the situation resolved. So before you find yourself a victim, protect yourself by doing your homework on any moving company you contact. This list of recommendations by the Illinois Movers’ and Warehousemen’s Association covers everything you need to know and do before you hire a mover.

Or to likely avoid any of this …

It’s harder to tend to these issues after they’ve already happened, which is why we built HireAHelper around holding movers accountable from the get-go; movers on our national database live and die by their reviews. We also work seven days a week to take care of any potential claims, or if something drastic happens, to find replacement movers as soon as possible (often for the same day).

Small claims court, calling the police or filing reports take a long time. Booking a vetted mover through a marketplace is much safer because even if something goes wrong, we work with you to fix it.

We believe it’s important to keep movers accountable, so you don’t have to.

As for opting to work directly with moving companies, you can help others from falling victim to the same irresponsible, illegal movers by writing an online review (which might more accurately be called an online warning), informing the Better Business Bureau of your situation, and filing a complaint with your state authorities as well as the FMCSA. These governmental agencies don’t usually have the resources to go after every moving company that pulls a fast one (sad but true), but if the complaints on a company start piling up there’s a chance that company will have the hammer of the law come down on them.

And that’s really all we want.

That, and getting all our stuff back, undamaged, on time and at cost. That shouldn’t be too much to ask.

Illustrations by Nicole Miles


  1. Debby Quashen

    I was forced to relocate “temporarily” because of a court order. The managing agent hired the movers, I has no choice or say in the matter. On February 5 th Dumbo Moving and Storage moved some boxes. On February 15 moved the rest. When I checked there were several boxes that were missing, including an air conditioner. Some of the boxes were numbered. Others were lettered A-M to differentiate them from ones that I needed and ones that I didn’t immediately. When I checked I found only 2 boxes, D-F. In NY the police won’t do anything. I’m sick to my stomach. The Department of Consumer Affairs won’t handle cases such as this, neither does the Attorney General. I feel violated, and victimized. Dumbo also damaged my stove and end table. I did contact the BBB. All they’re doing is reviewing the complaint. The managing agent David Fuhrer should be trying to get my property back, since he is completely responsible for what happened.I never wanted to move. He, the owner, the court forced the matter. Now when it comes to taking responsibility for what happened, no one cares. In a year or so, I’ll be forced to go through this again, and again I’ll probably get ripped off again. This has taken a huge toll.

  2. Kori White

    On December 26th, I decided to find a moving company that could move me from the west coast to the Midwest, I put in my info to one place and magically started getting calls from many other places. We were on a budget and most places had decent prices but R&R moving and storage had caught our eye because it had such a low estimate rate. We talked to one of the employees for about an hour and decided we were going to use them because they priced us at $975 with a military discount. We gave them a 4 day grace period to pick up my belongings since it was around the new year when I decided to move. Nobody showed up or gave us a call to let us know nobody was going to show up. January 2nd rolls around and finally got ahold of R&R, spoke briefly with them, they told us that their truck was having mechanical issues, I told them how unprofessional it was to not give a warning and cancelled, turns out we needed them again because everywhere else was outrageous for pricing. Signed an online esignature to confirm the order, was on call with a woman named Maria about pick up time for the 5th, they didn’t show up. They called that day and said their truck was having “mechanical issues” again, so they moved the pick up to Saturday, January 6th. They didn’t show up on time and they smelled of weed. After they loaded everything into the truck, they gave us a new estimate of $1357.16 and claimed that “we had more than originally stated” when I had actually spent the night before downsizing and re-boxing everything. Originally quoted us for 200cu.sqft and they claimed 250cu.sqft. We agreed because we wanted my stuff delivered accordingly. They had a problem with the check we gave them because we forgot to let the bank know someone was depositing it foe our move, yes our bad, but we had made sure a new check was sent out on January 16th, 2018 and we could track when it was delivered. We get a phone call from R&R saying that they brought my belongings to California and put them in storage and are demanding us to pay them more money. We didn’t agree for them to drive to California, in the complete opposite direction of my new home state, nor is it stated ANYWHERE in the bill of lading that they’re legally allow to do that. We also didn’t consent to my belongings being put in storage, which we recently found out was an extra $450 a month. They’re now bullying and threatening if we don’t pay them damn near $3000, they’re going to auction my belongings to pay for the bill. I’m at loss right now and completely hopeless on how to get my stuff back. I have reported to BBB, this company has an F rating and multiple complaints!!!! Their yelp page is littered with horrible reviews! I just want my stuff back!!

  3. Kay

    Do NOT ever hire MidAmerican moving and storage from Iowa, or AM Movers, LLC from Aurora Colorado. Both have lied repeatedly, shown up late for pick up, yelled at me on the phone, will not return calls or texts, WAY overcharged and still have not brought our stuff. It’s been over 3 weeks since we were supposed to get it. We’ve filed with BBB and DOT. If anyone knows how to get our stuff please email me.

  4. Nagendra Setty

    Do not hire UpFront Movers.
    UpFront Movers damaged/lost $3750 worth of expensive items during relocation from California to North Carolina.

    Now All the claim department compensating is $75. The claim department is not even considering the inventory of missed/damaged items I provided.

    Looks like it is a scam. If you don’t take additional insurance, all of your expensive items will be missed during the transit.

    Not sure if any one would get fair justice in such situation 🙁
    Contact me if anyone need more feedback on these cheaters.

    1. HireAHelper


      We’re sick of things like this happening on everyday moves, which is why we pour so much effort into covering all our moves with live support, insurance options, and a $1,000 money back guarantee. We’re sorry this happened to you!

  5. Bjorn

    I hired a moving company to move from SF (CA) to SEA (WA) called Unified Van Lines. I asked for a binding final estimate without hidden fees and was quoted $1795.50. On pick-up day (my last lease day) the guys demands a Tip in cash otherwise they won’t go so I gave them all the cash I had ($70 and then $230 my room mate had on him), I made a complaint about it no real response. On moving day the contract given to me was different then the estimate contract made online, I called and they told me everything was taken care of and the supervisor would change the standard contract to what was agreed online, I got an e-mail afterwards by the sales rep saying he didn’t know about some fees so he apologize would apply. I find out the moving company is a broker (FMCSA revoked their license to operate), false reviews and red flags from BBB too. I called/Email almost everyday, the few replies were very rude or false promises to call back. They sent me 6 different invoices, each had payment adjustments made by them even though I could prove my payments ($1930.5 total). Finally a driver shows up after a week the delivery date was scheduled and demanded I pay $1428.25, + delivery fees, + fees for distance between the truck and the apartment otherwise he would leave (all this in front of the police). So the police told me they couldn’t do anything even though I was advised previously by them that it was theft if the driver left. The moving company held my belongings hostage.
    The moving company called me that very same day and told me they would call me eat following day, they didn’t!
    I called them the following that and it took them 2 hours to admit they didn’t update the drivers invoice BUT either way now I had to pay $500 for a re-delivery fee and because I had problems with the invoice they would charge $200 as well for the time the driver had to wait while on the phone with them.
    If I couldn’t/wouldn’t pay they would charge every hour $100 and storage fees too.
    I agreed to pay in cash $1414 extra to have my belongings delivered, not to my apartment (7th floor) but on the street.
    They delivered my goods to my apartment complex building, leaving things on the street, got their money and left.
    Some items were broken, others missing.
    I updated my report to the Fraud Unit of the Seattle police, BBB complaint, FMCSA complaint and called MoveRescue. MoveRescue gave me the news that the FBI is investigating and they have already raided a storage facility in Missouri.
    Yet I find it hugely appealing that the state doesn’t have a real safety net for criminal like the ones from Unified Van Lines, things could have been prevented if the police have had power to just stop them by saying “you need to deliver and can’t leave with somebody else’s stuff” then you can file a Small Claim or something. a Nightmare.

  6. Heather Rose DiLuzio

    I need some advice as I’m currently having items held hostage. Suppose to be here in two days

  7. sandrina seales

    1. US Vanlines of GA or FL also known as US Vanlines of the Americas
    2. Long distance Van lines FL check
    3. You’re lucky. I didn’t even get an invoice which magically appeared on their end.
    4. WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN. Ignore whatever threats they make. The rude manager is feeling the heart. Let them get angry but keep your cool
    5. Buy a mini recorder and put them on speakerphone. Make notes if you don’t have access to one. They love to bully you. No bully have a high IQ. Out think them.

    File a claim in small claims court but be prepared to wait. I also have things hostage and not only did I not know where to go, they flat out refused to cooperate. claiming I owed even though they were told to let me know where it was. Whatever the limit, sue for a cent below like 5000 will be 4999.99. Make their lives uncomfortable and read up on the rules they must follow.

  8. Kim

    There is a really good chance all of my grandmas stuff was stolen from a moving company we hired. Anyone have any ideas of how to try and track them down? They took advantage of a 80 year old women and should be punished and her life should be returned.

Comments are closed.


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