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Too good to be true: Moving scams hit Montana

Posted at 7:29 PM, Oct 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-01 19:15:39-04

BOZEMAN - Many people are moving to Gallatin County and police say thieves are finding new ways to take advantage of that.

They call it a game of emotions and manipulation and involves moving trucks - and everything you own.

MTN talked to Bozeman police about local cases authorities are working to prosecute and what you need to watch out for.

“It’s a bit of a mess,” said Detective Quinn Ellingson with the Bozeman Police Department.

He says the latest moving scam starts when people looking to move go online looking for a moving company to get them from one home to another. The person looking to move plugs in some information and gets a quote for the cost.

“That quote ends up being a really good price,” said Ellingson. “They sign some kind of agreement to have a contract and once that contract is signed these online moving companies or clearinghouses will subcontract that move to someone and those people are not always legitimate movers.”

Then the person looking to relocate gets a phone call and the plans for pickup and delivery start to roll out.

“Oftentimes we’ll find they will be late or they will not be on time. They have some kind of story as to why they are not going to be here and try to get people to feel sorry for them, especially with COVID there’s been a lot of excuses - 'Montana is far away … I got stuck in a snowstorm,'” said Ellingson.

He says usually the excuses are bogus.

“One of the big keys for us is they don’t have trucks or they are using U-Haul or Penske trucks and sometimes those trucks are actually stolen,” said Ellingson.

It doesn’t end there, if they do show up the alleged bogus movers often don’t have enough men to load or deliver the goods.

“We’ve actually seen times when the victims will help move the stuff into the truck,” he said.

According to the police, in the end, the quoted price doesn’t hold. There's too much stuff. Or too many stairs. Or not enough space. The price goes up - and, the victim starts to feel like they better pay up or lose their belongings.

“They are able to do it because of the volume of people moving and they’ll present themselves as professional enough,” said Ellingson.

So what’s happening and what can you do? We went to the Better Business Bureau for some insight.

“There are great companies but there are also some very unethical practices in the industry,” said Roseann

Roseann Freitas of the BBB says often people don’t realize they are working with what’s called a ‘moving broker’. They act as a third-party liaison. She says not all of them are scammers but it can be confusing.

“A lot of people don’t realize they’re hiring a moving broker. They are assuming they are hiring the company. The challenge that comes in that the moving broker isn’t the moving company and ultimately at the end of the day you owe your money to the moving company,” she explained.

She says the deposit is often just for the bid and the assessment of how much stuff you have isn’t taken accurately. She says in the end the consumer is told more money is due.

“Many consumers balk at that,” she said of the moment consumers are asked to pay more. “They refuse and as soon that happens the movers shut the door they leave and they will hold your items hostage until you pay the fee.”

Police and the BBB say you just have to do your homework, make calls, check reviews and work with a local company when you can.

Freitas advises offering measurements and pictures when the representative tells you a list is good enough for them. If they don’t want your details, it’s another sign something is up.

Police say if you are asked to wire money it is always a red flag. Read the fine print. If you’ve been a victim, call the police.

Ellingson also tells us they’ve also had issues where the victim’s belongings have shown up in Bozeman storage units. Meaning the suspects picked up their stuff, took the deposit, paid for a month of storage, and disappeared. The items were discovered when the rent wasn’t paid the storage unit owner decided to open up the space.

Again - if it seems too good to be true it probably is.

DIGITAL EXTRA:

BBB’S MOVING INDUSTRY REPORT REVEALS BROKERS FAIL TO DISCLOSE CRUCIAL INFORMATION TO CONSUMERS

Better Business Bureau Great West + Pacific (BBBGWP) released its regionwide Moving Industry Report, revealing that many planning to relocate this year may lack sufficient knowledge about moving brokers.

An analysis of more than 1,400 complaints showed that a significant number of consumers were victimized by dishonest movers after trusting a broker to book their move.

WHAT IS A MOVING BROKER

Moving brokers are middlemen who book your move and then hire a 3rd party moving company to perform the relocation. Responsibility for the move will fall solely on the moving company (or companies) the broker hires.

The consumer is paying two companies to move, both the broker and the mover. The deposit paid is usually the brokerage fee, and the balance of the moving cost is paid to the moving company.

MOVING BROKER ISSUES

Initial estimates by moving brokers may double or triple once the mover arrives onsite and evaluates the size and volume of the belongings being moved. Unfortunately, most consumers cannot take swift action after the estimate is updated due to time constraints.

Finding a trustworthy and transparent broker is crucial since not all brokers disclose the company they’ve hired to perform the move. Brokers may even hire multiple companies to handle different aspects of a single move. Unfortunately, consumers often don’t find that out until the day of, when a company they don’t recognize arrives at their home.

According to some reported cases, movers hired by moving brokers have held items “hostage” until the consumer pays the total amount.

BBB RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CONSUMERS

• Check the company’s history for any recurring complaints, potential BBB alerts, and accreditation status on BBB.org.

• If working with a broker, insist that they disclose the company they will be hiring to perform the move. In addition, consumers should research the companies involved, especially before the day of the move.

• Ask for onsite inspections and estimates from at least three companies. It’ll help determine if a company is quoting a price that is too good to be true. Get everything in writing to understand how they generated the quote or for reference later.

• Ensure the mover is properly registered, licensed, and insured with the state and the Department of Transportation for interstate moves.

• Have a clear and organized inventory to help generate a reliable estimate. Again, this helps keep the mover (and the consumer) organized.

• Ask about the company’s insurance and liability coverage in case of lost or damaged items. For example, released Value only covers items at $.60 cents per pound, whereas Full Value covers the full replacement cost.

RESOURCES

Shop at bbb.org