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Americans are on the move.
The United States Census Bureau estimates that 12.5 percent of Americans -- nearly 40 million people -- changed residences each of the past two years.
While many turned to moving professionals for assistance, some learned the hard way that not all moving companies are created equally. In fact, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) received nearly 3,000 complaints about moving companies last year alone -- a double-digit increase from the prior year.
Some good news arrived in October in the form of a new law that provides additional protection for victims of "rogue" moving companies that hold belongings hostage in the interest of scamming consumers to pay unexpected fees.
The new law gives FMCSA the authority to force the return of consumer belongings in addition to the ability to levy fines of up to $10,000 per day.
"Unfortunately, our industry has been plagued by moving 'companies' that advertise unbelievable 'deals' that turn out to be consumer scams," said Jon Sorber, executive vice president of Two Men And A Truck, the nation's largest franchise moving company.
"The new regulations are a welcome change for those of us committed to operating legitimate moving companies, but they are just a start. Education is really the key to making sure consumers avoid the hassle of a moving scam in the first place."
Sorber suggests consumers ask the following questions before hiring a mover:
1. Can your family, friends and co-workers make a referral?
It's likely that you know several people who've hired a moving company in the past year.
Why not tap the resources of people you trust to share their experiences?
2. Does your mover have a brick and mortar facility you can visit?
Often the "rogue" mover operates from a storage unit or perhaps with no office at all.
If you are dealing with a legitimate moving company, they will have an office with trucks, employees, boxes, supplies, etc.
3. Is your mover licensed in your state?
The majority of states require a formal license to operate as a mover, and selecting a licensed, insured mover is your best bet in guaranteeing a hassle-free experience.
4. What community or industry associations does the moving company have?
Is your mover in good standing with the Better Business Bureau? Are they active members of the local Chamber of Commerce?
Choose a mover who is valued and trusted within your community and you'll likely eliminate any concern of questionable practices.
5. Does your mover offer free moving quotes?
A legitimate mover is going to provide free estimates of your move before a single item is moved.
If they refuse to do so, keep shopping regardless of how good the deal sounds.
Paul Oakley is senior vice president for Government Affairs at the American Moving and Storage Association (AMSA), the moving industry's largest trade association.
He and his team began working with Congress in 2008 to develop the new regulatory provisions that go into effect this month.
Like Sorber, he believes the new laws provide some measure of safety, but cautions that more work must be done to eliminate dishonest moving practices.
"The laws that went into effect in October directly impact policing of the industry," said Oakley, "but ultimately we must have safeguards that make entry into the industry more difficult, tougher enforcement against bad actors, and a greater effort needs to be made to educate consumers on how to choose a proper moving company."
Two Men And A Truck offers more questions consumers should ask before hiring a mover at www.twomenandatruck.com/moving-questions.
Consumers might also consider AMSA's "Before You Move" checklist at www.moving.org.