The Internet has become a wonderful tool to find brokers willing to do the legwork to help consumers hunt down the lowest prices for everything from airline tickets to vacation rental homes.
So naturally people are turning to the Web to help them choose a moving company. That may not be so smart or cost-effective. Using a moving broker may just lead you to a scam.
A moving broker acts as a middleman, arranging for a consumer to find a mover either through an affiliated moving carrier or by posting details of a consumer's move on the Internet. In the latter case, moving companies bid for a job based on details collected by the broker.
There are several types of broker scams. In one, a broker will promise to arrange your move for a low price. You pay a deposit or fee. You are given a date and information about the mover.
The scheduled moving day comes, and the mover never shows. Turns out the broker did nothing to find a mover. Your calls or complaints to the broker go unanswered.
In another version of this scam, a consumer receives an estimate for the move that is very low compared with other quotes. However, once the household goods are loaded onto the truck he or she is told the cost of the move will be significantly higher than the estimate. If the consumer refuses to pay, the belongings are held hostage until the bill is paid.
This last scam snared Sharon, who asked that her last name not be disclosed because she fears retaliation from brokers. Sharon insisted that her belongings be unloaded for 110 percent of the written estimate.
By law, interstate moving companies are required to release your belongings to you when you pay 100 percent of the charges in a binding estimate or 110 percent of a nonbinding estimate.
Because of consumer complaints, the Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which regulates interstate movers, is considering rule changes for moving brokers.
Among the proposed changes, brokers would have to clearly disclose if they are not the company transporting a consumer's household goods.
The problem with the rule changes is that con artists don't abide by the law.
"I advise people to avoid household-goods moving brokers completely," said Tim Walker, the founder of MovingScam.com.
"The price you pay in the end won't be much different, and the likelihood of problems occurring is much higher with a broker."