Rogue moving companies take advantage of people who are already facing emotional and financial strain on moving day. Here’s how to protect yourself.
Earlier this year a family that was moving from Calgary to Kingston, Ont. found out what can happen when you hire a rogue moving company.
As recounted by The Canadian Association of Movers (CAM), the family’s belongings were picked up by a guy with a F350 truck and a 37-foot enclosed cargo trailer. Somewhere around Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., the tires on the trailer blew out because the load was overweight. The driver dumped part of the load into a storage unit and continued toward Kingston, but along the way the truck had another breakdown.
The driver then phoned the family and demanded more money to pay for his expenses. When they refused, the driver threatened to find them and kill them. The family called police and the driver was charged with two counts of uttering threats to cause death.
The family then contacted CAM for help. Although the rogue mover was not a member of the association, one of its members arranged to collect the items left in Sault Ste. Marie. The rest of the shipment, with help from police, was found in Port Hope, Ont. and it was brought to Kingston by another CAM member.
The association has no power to discipline the rogue mover under the provisions of its Code of Ethics, since the driver is not a member.
This story, though extreme, is not an isolated case. Complaints against moving companies are common and have been happening for years. The Better Business Bureau says it had more than 100 complaints and 75,500 inquiries about movers and storage-related companies in 2016, while Ontario’s Ministry of Government and Consumer Services logged 294 complaints in 2015. The ministry says many complaints never get reported.
Most consumers hire shady movers because they offer a great price. “We hear from far too many people that price was the deciding factor, especially when the operator talked a good game, only to have the whole move end disastrously,” says Nancy Irvine, president of CAM. “Remember, if it’s too good to be true, it usually is.”
Canada’s Competition Bureau also hears its share of horror stories about rogue movers. It says the movers usually advertise on sites such as Kijiji or Craigslist, offering low fees and “no surprises”. They speak to customers on the phone and assure them that a verbal agreement is adequate, and a paper copy of the contract can be signed on the day of the move.
But on moving day, they add unexpected charges for “warehousing” or “pickup fees” and threaten to leave the customer without a mover unless they pay up.
“In some instances, the fraudsters will hold your possessions hostage until you pay another amount for their delivery. You are left scrambling to find the money, hoping that you will get everything back in one piece,” warns the Competition Bureau.
“Fly-by-night and no-name truck for hire types can take advantage of the fact you’re under emotional, financial and time pressures when moving,” said Mary O’Sullivan-Anderson, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Serving Southern Alberta and East Kootenay. In a news release last year, she said, “It’s so important to do your research before entrusting a mover with all of your belongings.”
With suggestions from CAM, the Better Business Bureau and the Competition Bureau, here are some ways to ensure a smooth move:
– Get at least three quotes. Research the companies online (but beware of fake testimonials) and by getting recommendations from friends or your real estate salesperson. Your provincial consumer affairs ministry and local BBB may have information on specific companies to avoid. Look for BBB and CAM logos on the company’s sales materials.
– Some provinces require movers to have specific permits or registrations. Check to see if they are registered.
– Get written estimates. A reputable mover will come to your home and inspect the house and the items to be moved. The estimate should be on company letterhead and include the firm’s address and contact information. It should also include the number of items and boxes to be moved, the size and value of the items, the cost per hour or flat rate, terms of payment and timing for the move.
– Find out what your household insurance will cover and what your mover’s insurance will cover if any of your items are lost or damaged. Generally, insurance does not cover things like jewelry, currency or hazardous materials. You may want to move the most valuable or fragile items yourself.
– Trust your own instincts. If the mover doesn’t want to meet with you, or is much cheaper than other movers, there’s a reason for that.
– If the mover tries something sleazy, such as holding your items hostage for more money, call the police. If you don’t think it’s a police matter but you still feel that you were unfairly treated, lodge a complaint with CAM and the BBB.
Industry Canada worked with moving-industry professionals, consumer groups and government officials to develop the Good Practice Guidelines for Canadian Movers, along with a Consumer Checklist to help consumers select reputable and ethical movers.