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

Married and Moving In: What Does That Mean for My Money?

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Getting married and moving in with your partner is a significant turning point in both your lives. But in the process of packing up and combining all your worldly goods, things can get a little bit hectic. You may have found your dream home, but this is just the beginning – in the midst of all this excitement, you shouldn’t forget to keep a critical eye on your personal finances.

Things can get a little weird, so with that in mind, here are a few money protips to help you navigate life as a newlywed.

Clear the Air and Tell Eachother Your Debts

First things first: communication isn’t just crucial for your feelings! Openly communicating about finances is a massive step towards keeping tension out of your marriage.

Make no mistake: money is (perhaps unsurprisingly) one of the biggest causes of stress in relationships. So be honest and forthcoming with each other about your finances prior to moving in, so you can work on a plan to move forward together. That means laying all your cards out on the table. Make sure to discuss:

  • Your spending habits and priorities
  • What you each carry in terms of debt
  • Your credit standing
  • Current investments and income
  • Your goals are for the future

The more you communicate, the better you’ll be able to negotiate your financial landscape as a team.

Knowing What’s Mine and What’s Yours: What’s Separate in the Eyes of the Law

The distinction between separate and shared marital assets differs from state to state. In general, assets acquired before marriage, as well as gifts, inheritance and personal injury awards are considered separate.

Most other assets, specifically those acquired during a marriage, are seen as shared. This includes retirement accounts (like IRAs or 401(k)s), businesses, properties, income and investments. However, remember that some of these assets will be assessed differently depending on whether you live in one of these common law or community property states:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Idaho
  • Louisiana
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • Texas
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

This can totally affect how you handle those assets, so read the links and be prepared!

Do You Share Debts Too?

In common law states, assets owned by only one spouse are legally considered separate, which can provide what’s sometimes called an asset protection advantage.

Those community property/common law states I talked about earlier, on the other hand, treat both spouses as equal contributors to the family unit, regardless of individual income level, which means they divide all assets 50/50. This includes everything earned or purchased during the marriage years, no matter if the deed, title or account registration is only in one person’s name. This also means that here, debt or liabilities acquired by one spouse are shared equally by both.

Yep, that means in the event that you want to override your state’s property laws, you’ll need to hire a lawyer to draft a prenuptial agreement. This will stand in court even if you move between states that apply different property laws.

‘Till Death (and Taxes) Do Us Part

Tax laws can be complicated, so make sure to do some research to determine whether you should file jointly or separately as a married couple. It will highly depend on factors such as children, rate of income and even nationality.

Filing jointly means your tax liability will likely change, pushing you into a lower or higher bracket. However, even with a higher tax rate, there are benefits. Married-filing-jointly couples receive exemptions, deductions and credits not available under other statuses. Adjusting your W-4 to the married rate or claiming the additional allowance also reduces the taxes withheld from your paycheck. Plus, spouses are also allowed unlimited tax free gifts to each other, which can affect how you handle larger assets.

Add it All Up – Together

One of the most proactive steps you’ll need to take is to – for real – sit down and make a mutual budget. This will keep both of you accountable to the shared responsibilities you’ll now have, so you don’t fall into debt.

Even if you decide to put one of you in charge of the finances, it’s still important to create a plan together. List all of your expenses, most of all including:

  • Rent or mortgage payments
  • Utilities
  • Food and entertainment
  • Car expenses
  • Loan and credit card payments
  • Savings and retirement contributions

Discuss individual needs or preferences and make sure you come to a compromise in areas where you disagree. You’ll also need to decide whether you’ll split everything equally, or have each person contribute a percentage to the household based on their earnings.

Save for a Rainy Day

Finally, build an emergency fund! This is critical in keeping your marriage stable when life gets rocky, and is severely lacking on most people’s ledger. It is guaranteed to come in handy when the car breaks down, the basement floods or a family emergency occurs. It will also protect you during job losses, serious accidents and extended illnesses.

There’s no way to predict what or when these events will crop up, but one thing is for sure: something always does. Make this a priority so an unexpected life event doesn’t end up driving your marriage into the ground.

Moving into a new home together as newlyweds can get a bit daunting as you’ll have to do things a bit differently. Make sure you take the previous tips into consideration when planning out your finances for your new life together – it’ll make many of your future issues a lot easier to deal with so that you can focus on each other and your marriage.


Beth Kotz is a contributing writer to Credit.com. She specializes in covering financial advice for female entrepreneurs, college students and recent graduates. She earned a BA in Communications and Media from DePaul University in Chicago, where she continues to live and work.

The Stuff That’s Illegal to Bring Into California

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Question: What do pecan shells, ferrets and flamethrowers have in common?

Answer: They are all things you can’t bring into the state of California.

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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.)

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