Protect against shady movers that inflate prices, hold belongings hostage

This is typically the busiest month for moving in the year. If you’re one of those people who will be on the move soon, make sure you check out the company that will be transporting your belongings.

According to Consumer Reports, regulators in Massachusetts and New Jersey sued movers for giving customers low estimates and then hiking the price once goods were on the truck. One mover, according to the magazine, threatened to sell the belongings unless customers paid up.

Federal law restricts how much movers can revise initial estimates, but that’s only in cases where people are moving across state lines. You must get an estimate in writing, and you can’t be charged extra if you receive a binding estimate. If you get a non-binding estimate, the mover can’t charge more than the original quote. You can find more about your federal rights online at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s website.

A couple of years ago, Maryland added protections for residents who didn’t fall under the federal regulations because they were moving within the state’s borders. Movers must provide a written estimate. If it’s binding, the mover won’t be able to charge more. But if you get a non-binding estimate, you generally can’t be charged more than 25 percent of the original quote.

Consumer Reports also offers these tips:

  • Get recommendations of movers from those you know, rather than relying on the phone book or Internet ads. Ask at least three companies for estimates.
  • Make sure the companies are licensed.
  • Check your homeowner’s policy to see if it covers lost or damaged goods.
  • Don’t pay cash.
  • A mover will fill in the weight of your possessions later. But don’t sign a contract in which most of the lines are left blank.
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