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

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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

Negotiating the Hostage Situation: Arizona’s New Law Trumps an Old Moving Scam

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This past February, Arizona took its first big step toward addressing an issue that plagues the entire nation.

“Yay! …Um, what’s the issue?”

The issue is the nasty practice by some super-nasty movers of holding a customer’s goods hostage until a ransom (i.e., a price much higher than the original quote) is paid. In a move that we might argue is long overdue, Arizona’s House passed HB2145, a bill mandating that a mover has an “absolute obligation” to deliver the customer’s goods.

“That’s good! …Right?”

Well, such legislation may sound right and good, but the Arizona Trucking Association wasn’t entirely pleased with that “absolute obligation” part, contending that this left customers with no compelling incentive to pay for their move at all if they didn’t want to. As they state on their website:

“ATA is concerned that, as written, will hurt legitimate movers who will have little recourse against customers who refuse to pay for services… ATA agrees with the intent of the bill. We want to eliminate bad movers who undermine the public trust. However, HB2145 has unintended consequences that will seriously jeopardize legitimate moving companies.”

The ATA’s point was well-taken, and HB2145 was revised to allow for the possibility that the final cost of the move could be higher than the original estimate due to legitimate reasons (e.g., extra items or more weight). In such an instance, HB2145 would require the customer to pay at least the original estimate, and in turn, the mover would be required to unload the goods.

And if one party decides not to play nice?

“If the mover balks when the original estimate is paid,” explains Tucson.com, “the legislation specifically empowers a police officer to direct the mover to unload the goods. Conversely, if the customer refuses to pay even the original estimate, the mover would be free to drive off with all of the items still in the truck, exercising what is called a “carrier’s lien” on the goods. There would, however, be an obligation on the mover to ensure that no harm comes to the items being held.”

On March 20th with these amendments in place, the Senate Committee on Commerce and Public Safety voted for the passage of HB2145, which was then passed by the Senate on April 18th. On May 1st, it was signed into law by Governor Ducey.

“Cool.”

Yes, definitely cool.

The (Un-Criminal) World of Hostage-Taking Movers

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[Synopsis: Fraud and deception runs rampant in our industry. Why isn’t more being done?]

We bust our butts to do our jobs well, to treat our customers right and give our industry a good name. But we still hear about swindles, scams and those customers standing out in their own driveway facing a hostage situation. To those lucky enough to not know what I mean…

Hostage situation:  A mover has your stuff and won’t give it back but under certain conditions.

How do these guys get away with it? They’re relentless. (And almost as successful as the fraudsters running that Nigerian Prince e-mail scheme.)

(more…)

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