June 21, 2017 2:23 pm

Moving scams: How to avoid being ripped off

Mon, Jan 16: Moving is a stressful event in anyone's life. Now imagine if you hire a moving company that asks for more money after your possessions have been loaded on the truck. As Sean O’Shea reports, it happens frequently.

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Packing clothes, getting rid of old electronics and finding a way to transfer bulky furniture — moving can be a stressful experience made worse if you’re the victim of a scam.

Megan Thibodeau from Duncan, B.C., said when she hired a company to move her furniture to Nova Scotia in 2015, her belongings ended up being “held hostage.”

“I did a quick Google search and found a company. I was tight on money so the guy on the phone gave me a quote and said it was a good deal,” she said.

The movers then came to pick up her stuff and told her they could not weigh it until later and could not give her a final price.

“I was nervous about this, but thought maybe I was overreacting,” Thibodeau said.

Once her belongings were in Nova Scotia, the company told Thibodeau how much she owed, which was three times the original quote.

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READ MORE: Woman claims she is victim of moving company scam

“I didn’t have the money to pay the full price so they said they were not giving back my stuff until I paid and wouldn’t tell me where it was,” she said.

After many phone calls and complaints to the Canadian Association of Movers, Thibodeau ended up getting her belongings back.

“Then another company weighed the stuff and proved that it was three times less than I was being charged. They were definitely overcharging me,” she said.

How to avoid a scam

Moving is one of the most complained about industries in Canada, according to the Better Business Bureau.

Jim Carney with the Canadian Association of Movers said it’s because there aren’t any regulations in place for moving companies.

“It’s the wild west. People can charge whatever they want to,” he said. “And with the advent of computers and social media, movers can have beautiful websites and a nice sounding voice over the phone, and people are getting roped in and booking their business.”

READ MORE: Man says nearly $7,000 of furniture damaged by movers

Carney said he receives weekly calls from people who have been duped by companies.

“In many instances the mover does not show up and hold people’s stuff ransom,” he said. “Other times companies will say ‘you have steps in your home so that’s an addition $50’ or ‘the item is too heavy so that’s another $50.'”

He said there are many tips out there to help costumers avoid getting ripped off.

Don’t pay all the money upfront 

“No question that this raises a red flag. There is no reason to pay for the entire move before the move begins. I know I wouldn’t!” Carney said.

Carney said movers typically ask for a deposit of 10 per cent.  On a local move, the balance is usually paid when it’s done. On a long distance move, the customer usually pays when the truck arrives at the destination, prior to unloading.

“This prevents the unscrupulous customer from withholding payment, leaving the mover with no recourse. The potential for not getting paid after unloading is magnified when the customer is moving hundreds of miles away from the mover’s domicile,” he said.

Contact the Canadian Association of Movers

The Canadian Association of Movers has a list of reputable businesses that adhere to strict guidelines.

Ask a friend or family member

One of the easiest ways to find a reputable mover is to ask family and friends to see who they have used in the past.

Be wary of “fake” online reviews

Carney said many moving websites have fake reviews.

READ MORE: Man faces extortion, fraud charges in Toronto moving company probe

“If a company that has 90 reviews and all of them are five stars … that’s a sure sign they are probably not reputable,” he said. He said to ask for legitimate references as the company should provide you with emails or numbers of past customers.

Take a look at the facility

If possible, try to see if the business has a physical presence in your area, Carney said. Many businesses don’t have moving trucks and source the contract to freight companies and that’s “when the damage starts,” he said.

Don’t be fooled by good-looking websites

Carney said many companies bait customers with a professional-looking website.

“A lot of these companies are intertwined and are all the same company. We once traced a phone number from one of these websites and found 16 different moving companies,” Carney said.

Get it in writing

Many companies will give you a quote over the phone, but unless it’s in writing the movers can end up charging what they want, he said. Make sure to get a written statement as well as terms and conditions.

Carney said the main takeaway to avoid a scam is if the “price is too good to be true, it probably is.”

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