Preventing scams by rogue movers

Published: Saturday, Aug. 25 2012 11:20 p.m. MDT

Phillips' problem wasn't exactly the same as the hostage-taking scam, but it felt like it to her. She says she called everybody she could without much luck. Then she heard about a service Mayflower and United Van Lines created and support called Move Rescue. Move Rescue includes a national network of attorneys who work with people, like Phillips, who fall victim to rogue movers. The service helps the victims recover their property. Mayflower or United Van Lines then delivers the property at no cost.

With Move Rescue's help and assistance from police and the storage unit company, Phillips' property was finally released to her, although she had to fly out to Chicago to do it. What she saw inside the storage unit devastated her. Somebody apparently had broken into the unit. Damaged furniture lay in piles. Boxes were opened and ransacked. Jewelry, coins, computers, a sewing machine, family heirlooms and other items and furniture were missing.

Mayflower carefully loaded Phillips' goods and last week United Van Lines delivered her property, at no cost, to a storage unit in Saratoga Springs.

Phillips stood at the storage place with a clipboard on Wednesday and checked off items on the inventory list as it was unloaded in the cool morning air. She was glad to see the ordeal end but is worried. Insurance will cover most of her losses — except the sentimental loss of family heirlooms. "I have to go through all the boxes to see what they took," she says, "so I am very unsettled."

As five workers unload item after item, Phillips says, "I don't know where I went wrong."

The FMCSA was concerned enough about rogue movers to set up a website, www.protectyourmove.gov, to help movers. In its "Moving Fraud Prevention" checklist on the site, the FMCSA says to check www.protectyourmove.gov to see if a potential mover is registered with FMSCA and if there are complaints against it. It says to avoid movers that do not show U.S. DOT numbers and brokers that do not show Motor Carrier or MC numbers in their advertisements.

Another red flag, according to the FMCSA, is when a company does not provide customers with a copy of "Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move." Companies are required by law to provide it when people are moving interstate.

Sullivan warns customers to beware of really low estimates and estimates over the phone or on the Internet. "When moving, get at least three in-home estimates," she says. "And get it in writing."

She says by law, if you pay 110 percent of the written estimate, the mover has to deliver the property. The delivery, however, won't prevent the mover from attempting to collect more legitimate charges.

Sullivan also says to never pay a deposit up front, such as Phillips says Neighbors required. "The movers have all your household goods in a truck," she says, "they don't need a deposit."

Phillips says she has learned her lesson. "I was trying to save money on moving," she says. "I paid for it dearly. I won't make that mistake again."

EMAIL: mdegroote@desnews.com

TWITTER: degroote, FACEBOOK: facebook.com/madegroote

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