Tuesday, March 20 , 2018, 7:38 am | Overcast 52º


Diane Dimond: Moving? Beware of the Criminal Element

Hey, have you heard? The economy is improving! Car sales are up, so are new construction permits, and the housing market seems to have righted itself. According to folks who keep track of these things at the American Moving & Storage Association, a record number of us are expected to move residences this year, migrating to bigger apartments, houses or new jobs out of state.

The AMSA reports that last year 36.5 million Americans changed where they lived. (They count every man, woman and child over 1 year old.) So, imagine the economic impact of close to 40 million people journeying to new locations. Many will need to buy new appliances, carpets, drapes and other furnishings for their new place. It will surely be a great shot in the arm for the economy, and there are predictions that improving consumer confidence will fuel even more economic improvement!

But hold on. Before we get to feeling all warm and fuzzy, let’s remember that these are exactly the times con men crave. When people are on the move and spending money, the craftiest of that breed surfaces.

Apparently, spring is a traditional time when many decide to pick up and start fresh somewhere new. In fact, the month of May is National Moving Month, and crooks have already marked it on their calendar.

The AMSA has now joined forces with the national Better Business Bureau to remind anyone planning to move to beware of rip-off artists on the prowl.

“A con artist with just a truck and a website can claim to be a legitimate mover with unfortunate results for consumers who don’t check out a company in advance,” AMSA president and CEO Linda Bauer Darr warns

The BBB reports that last year 1.3 million Americans were smart enough to call their local offices to check out moving companies before they hired them. Unfortunately, lots of others did not, relying on a “friend of a friend” or an ad on Craigslist to find what they thought would be a reputable moving company.

The bureau says it also got more than 9,000 complaints about unscrupulous movers in 2012. Among the issues: unskilled workers who didn’t pack things properly; damaged, destroyed or missing items; late deliveries; and original estimates that suddenly ballooned once the truck pulled up to the new residence. Many consumers reported their belongings were, literally, held hostage until the disputed amount was paid in full.

Case in point: a man named Tim Walker, who moved to Nevada from Virginia and after six weeks of fighting finally gave in. He paid double the original estimate to get his belongings released.

Sometimes dishonest movers can be found and punished, but lots of times they — their truck and their attractive website — disappear without a trace.

So, what’s a harried family preoccupied with packing up supposed to do to protect themselves?

First, get at least three in-house written estimates, and when you call note whether they answer with their business name or just a drowsy sounding, “Hello?” So that your estimate is based in reality, make sure the company sees everything you want to take, including all the stuff you’ve stashed in the garage. Verify that the mover is actually insured and bonded, as so many claim to be. And don’t jump at the lowest price thinking you’re getting a deal. Remember the old saying, “You get what you pay for.”

Second, if you are moving out of state, understand that all interstate movers have to be licensed with the federal government, so ask for the company’s motor carrier number. Then, go to ProtectYourMove.gov, and make sure to verify that the number is active.

Third, know your rights. In fact, reputable movers will give you pamphlets outlining ways to make sure the transport of your belongings goes smoothly. Never pay hostage money for your property. Call police right away if movers demand more money than their original estimate. Several states are conducting undercover stings of suspected rogue movers this season, so the faster you can get law enforcement on the scene, the better. For good measure, don’t forget to report the crooks to the BBB.

The American Moving & Storage Association also helps make your final choice of an honest mover easier. It has a sort of Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval you should look for. It bestows its stylized blue “M” ProMovers logo only on certified moving companies.

Once you see that logo on a company’s advertisements or business card, you can be sure the firm has gone through the association’s rigorous screening program, which includes a criminal background check on all owners, officers and stockholders.

The firm must show it is in compliance with all state and federal laws. The company has to agree not to engage in false advertising, and it signs the association’s Code of Ethics pledge. Each year, the AMSA doubles back to recheck each firm, and its right to advertise with the ProMover designation can be revoked if AMSA finds any problems.

“Our mission is to get these rogues off the road,” Darr says. “That is the single most important thing we can do. ... (They) are killing our business and killing consumers’ faith in professional movers.”

You may not be changing your residence anytime soon, but with close to 40 million Americans moving this year, chances are you know someone who will be. Do them a favor. Warn them about the pitfalls. Hand them a copy of this column.

Diane Dimond is the author of Cirque Du Salahi: Be Careful Who You Trust. Contact her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), follow her on Twitter: @DiDimond, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click here to get started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >