By Kelli B. Grant
Consumers moving across state lines will soon get some extra protection from “rogue movers” — scammers who offer low bids, only to demand more cash once the truck is loaded.
As part of the $105 billion transportation spending bill this month, movers will be required to provide any revisions to their estimated price — say, additional, unexpected boxes — in an itemized list before loading the shipment. If there is a change to the price, they have to release the goods to the consumer once 100% of the binding estimate, or 110% on a non-binding estimate, has been paid.
The government also has more authority to intervene, charging violators who hold goods hostage face a minimum penalty of $10,000. USA Today reports that some of that fine could be used to reimburse consumers. Some of the new rules take effect in August, others in October.
The changes come amid rising complaints against movers. Consumers made 2,851 complaints to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in 2011 — a 17% increase over 2010. “You hear that phrase ‘held hostage’ a lot” when it comes to movers, says Cheryl Reed, a spokeswoman for review site Angie’s List, which rates and reviews moving and other services. In a recent survey, 38% of the site’s users said they had problems with a move, including unexpected charges and damaged or stolen items.
Consumer advocates say the new rules, which apply only to interstate moves, should help. But the onus is still on consumers to find reputable movers, especially for in-state moves that have less regulation. Experts say the average tab — $2,300 for a move in state, and $4,300 for one across state lines — often prompts consumers to pick the lowest bid, which is more likely to result in extra charges on moving day. “A household move is too important to trust to just anyone,” says Katherine Hutt, a spokeswoman for the Better Business Bureau.
As we’ve previously reported, consumers should get in-home inspections and written estimates from at least three movers. Check licensing and complaints through the Department of Transportation, the American Moving & Storage Association and consumer-complaint sites like the BBB http://www.bbb.org. For more tips for a smooth, cheap move, see our column “7 Ways to cut Moving Costs .”