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FBI warns moving company scammers are out to take your stuff and your money

Fly-by-night moving companies often give victims a low-ball estimate. Then, once they have your belongings, squeeze you for a lot more.

WASHINGTON — The FBI’s Washington Field Office has a warning for anyone who needs to hire a moving company: Watch out for the "moving scam."

Fly-by-night companies have been taking everything people own hostage and then demanding a bigger payday, according to the FBI. 

In the DMV, a very transient region, moving is a constant. Many people are on the go, moving in and out of the area. Scammers know that, and they’re taking advantage of it.

Delores Skeen was in tears when CBS talked to her in 2019. The walls of her Baltimore County apartment were bare, with no pictures of her kids, or her late husband. 

“He’s gone now," Skeen said in an interview. "I have nothing to remember him by." 

Skeen had moved across the country for life-saving back surgery, hiring a company to take her belongings from Texas to Maryland. She says they gave her a quote for about $3,500, which she paid in full. But she says after they loaded up her stuff, they jacked up the price to almost $12,000 and refused to deliver until she paid that too. 

"It’s just horrible what this company has done to people," she said. "And I’m not the only one." 

Sarah Linden, FBI assistant special agent in charge of the Washington Field Office, confirmed that cases of moving fraud have been increasing., 

"What we’re seeing is the same characteristics of fraud keep happening over and over. And the frauds keep coming," Linden said. 

Keeping yourself from becoming a victim starts before you go by following a few tips from the FBI. 

Protecting Yourself Before You Move:

  • Make sure everything is in writing, including whether the broker is only a broker or whether the broker is with the moving company.
  • Check with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association, U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) to ensure that the broker and the moving company are legitimate before signing contracts or paying money.
  • Check with the Better Business Bureau and check online reviews.

Red Flags: 

  • If the initial inventory and estimate is conducted over the phone and if the estimate is based on cubic feet, not weight.
  • If the company requires a large down payment to book a move or lock in a price.
  • If the company requires you to pay in cash and gives you a substantially low-cost estimate.
  • If the company uses high-pressure sales tactics to make you commit to an estimate or rushes you to sign anything.
  • If the company email headers do not match the paperwork (name or address used is different than the company you thought you were dealing with).
  • If the USDOT numbers do not match the company name. Victims should be diligent in cross-checking inconsistencies in documents they receive from the company. DOT numbers can be searched through open sources to identify the company's business name.
  • If the company address listed comes back to a residential building or virtual office.
  • If the company does not provide you a copy of Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move.

"We also see them asking for cash payments," Linden said. "That’s a big red flag. Often large cash payments." 

Protecting Yourself at the Time of the Move:

Red Flags: 

  • The carrier arrives in a generic truck or rental vehicle.
  • The carrier begins loading before discussing any potential additional charges; you need to agree to new charges prior to work being done.
  • The carrier asks you to sign blank or incomplete documents.
  • The carrier demands payment in cash, money orders, or cash apps, and sometimes even more payment than originally agreed upon.
  • The carrier refuses to deliver household goods until an inflated price is paid.
  • There are threats or ultimatums being made by a representative from the company.

Linden says a generic or rental truck is, "one of the biggest red flags."

What to do if You are a Victim: 

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