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 Census Bureau 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," warns AMSA President and CEO Linda Bauer Darr.
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 2011. 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 from Virginia to Nevada 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 web site -- disappear without a trace.
So, what's a harried family pre-occupied 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 www.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. They have a sort of "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" you should look for. They bestow their 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 they are in compliance with all state and federal laws. The company has to agree not to engage in false advertising and they sign the association's Code of Ethics pledge. Each year the AMSA doubles back to re-check each firm and their right to advertise with the ProMover designation can be revoked if they find 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 may be reached via her website: www.DianeDimond.com and @ Twitter,Facebook and Linked In