The list of active scams targeting older citizens is long and varied. Dating apps, social security fraud, phony IRS calls, identity theft, heck, even DNA-testing hoaxes. The length scammers are going to separate older Americans from their money is reaching outrageous levels. 

Considerable set out to get more information on common moving scams, how to avoid them, and how to secure an upcoming move of your own.

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the federal agency that oversees interstate movers, there were more than 5,900 complaints of moving fraud in 2018, with the average loss claim topping $16,000. 

So what should you look for, and what steps can you take to ensure a scam-free moving and downsizing transition? 

How most moving scams work

Most moving scammers exist solely online and lure customers with too-good-to-be-true promises.

Most moving scammers exist solely online and lure customers with exceedingly low prices and too-good-to-be-true promises, often without requiring a detailed list of inventory and items to be moved. 

These companies will often ask for a large deposit or even full payment before the move begins. Making a payment sends the scam in a variety of directions, all bad.

Once they have the deposit, the movers might try several tactics to squeeze more money out of the customer. They might be late, or not show up at all, and then will try adding new costs by claiming the original price didn’t include packing equipment and supplies, or that the load is larger than agreed upon and thus more expensive.  

The “hostage load”: When movers disappear with belongings until the owners pay more money.

But it’s once they have everything packed that the real scam begins: The mover can then leverage the fact that they have your life in a truck to up the ante. Scammers can demand more money to finish the move, and threaten to disappear if those demands are not met.

The “hostage load,” when movers simply disappear with belongings until the owners pay more money, accounted for 7% of fraud complaints filed with the FMCSA in 2018.

Red flags to watch for

Don’t want your belongings hijacked? It’s important to know what to look for, and how to maneuver more carefully into your new residence.

  • Most scam moving companies won’t have a clear address on their website, and may not provide any information about their own certifications as well as insurance options.
  • They might demand a large deposit or even full payment in advance, perhaps in cash.
  • Often they’ll give you an estimate (and a cheap one at that) without inspecting or even asking about what’s being moved, how much there is, and so on.
  • And instead of having their own branded moving trucks, they might show up in rented trucks that bear no connection to their purported company.

Ways to protect yourself

The good news: Online research and safety measures can help avoid these awful outcomes.

Before you choose a mover, make sure to get estimates from multiple companies. If one of the estimates seems suspiciously lower than the rest, be cautious.

Make sure you get a detailed summary of the move in writing.

You can research a moving company by checking the FMCSA’s database of movers, which provides registration information and includes customer reviews and complaint history. In addition, you can search the company profile in the Better Business Bureau’s website.

Often the best recommendations for a reliable mover come from friends and family who have recently gone through the same experience, so consider your personal connections a resource.

Request an in-home estimate so it’s clear exactly how much you have and what it will require to move, in staffing and truck size.   

Make sure you get a detailed summary of the move in writing, including the move date, pickup and delivery times, a complete inventory of goods, any additional services the mover is providing, and contact information for the driver and his staff. If you still feel unclear about any of these details, don’t hesitate to request clarification.

Tiffiny Lutz, a representative for Caring Transitions, a company that provides moving management options for older folks, recommends requiring a moving company to be a Certified Relocation & Transition Specialist.

Lutz suggested getting insurance for the move, and requiring background checks for any movers handling your possessions.

According to Lutz, CRTS movers comprise “a select group of professionals that meet national standards, and they pass an assessment exam to demonstrate their knowledge of core competencies in senior move management, relocation, and transition services.”

Lutz also suggested getting insurance for the move, and requiring background checks for any movers handling your possessions. 

“It offers a level of security and safety,” Lutz said. “There’s no question or doubt that we’re doing a service for our customers, and our names are plastered everywhere, so we can be looked up. We can be Googled, and there’s a level of security with that.” 

So if a big move is in your future, make sure you feel safe and comfortable with who is doing the moving for you.  You don’t want to start the next chapter in life with your belongings in anything less than safe hands.