Memorial Day marks the beginning of the traditional moving season, which runs through Labor Day. But unfortunately, not all of the estimated 37 million Americans who change residences during 2012 will have a smooth move. A few, in fact, will almost certainly have their worldly possessions “held hostage” by unsavory types known in the professional moving industry as rogue operators — imposters who are often really criminals.

The harm they cause can range from annoying to tragic. Such self-styled “movers,” hiding behind professional-looking websites that mask their phony operations, usually don’t live up to their promises. And as consumers continue to transition away from the Yellow Pages to shopping for services online, they frequently fail to realize that hiring a legitimate mover requires some checking. Immediately snapping up a low price online is fine when looking for a DVD – but don’t forget that when you move, in simple terms, you’re inviting people you don’t really know to pack up everything you own in a locked truck and drive away.

 

One of the most common scenarios has these con artists holding trailers of household goods hostage unless the customer pays an exorbitant fee. Or claiming that the items suddenly weigh more than they did when loaded — and so will now cost substantially more to deliver.

 

It’s the last thing a customer needs — relocating can often be a hectic and stressful life transition said to rank with losing a loved one or a job. During such times, it’s no wonder consumers may not be as careful as they should be when choosing a mover. Yet taking just a few minutes to check out your mover will almost always prevent such headaches. Here are five tips to help you avoid the bad guys:

1. Be wary of “guaranteed” estimates over the phone or Internet; instead, get at least three written in-home estimates. Show the mover everything you intend to take, including items in the attic, basement, garage, storage areas, shed, yard, etc. to ensure an accurate estimate.

 

2. Browse through a prospective mover’s website thoroughly. Make sure you have a physical address and a phone number. Ask to visit the facility if you have concerns.

 

3. Be suspicious of carriers seeking large down payments, and never sign any blank forms.

 

4. Take valuables, such as coins, jewelry, photographs, rare collectibles and important papers with you.

 

5. If you’re moving between states, your mover under federal law must give you copies of three documents at the time of the estimate: the “Your Rights and Responsibilities” and “Ready to Move?” brochures, and information on the arbitration program the mover must participate in. Read them carefully.

 

 

Finally, if you’re moving locally or within the same state, check to see whether the company you’re considering is a member of a state moving association (more than half the states have such organizations) or of the American Moving & Storage Association, the industry’s national non-profit trade association. If you’re moving between states (or within California), make sure your mover displays the ProMover logo.

AMSA created the ProMover certification in 2008 as the moving industry’s “seal of approval” to give consumers a way to easily separate reputable, professional movers from con artists out to make a quick buck at their expense. To earn this designation, participating AMSA members undergo an annual screening that includes a review of any felony convictions of the company’s owners, officers or majority stockholders regarding matters over which the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the Surface Transportation Board (STB) or any state consumer protection agency has jurisdiction; verification of company ownership with the appropriate state corporation commission; and a review of each applicant’s website for improper advertising.

 

Each new applicant must also complete a signatory agreement attesting it will comply with FMCSA and STB regulations and uphold the AMSA Code of Ethics. The ProMoverSM logo stands for a set of basic, honest business principles — a distinctive, stylized “M” that at a glance gives customers the confidence and comfort of knowing they and their cherished possessions aren’t being taken for a ride.

 

By following these simple steps, consumers can easily avoid the problems that often accompany doing business with someone who is mover in name only.

 www.moving.org