Scammed by the movers
August 27, 2008 10:55 PM   Subscribe

Interstate movers gave a binding estimate ($2300) based on an accurate list that we supplied, but after all the furniture was loaded on the truck they told us it was more than twice the price ($5300)! What can we do?

We paid half when the furniture was loaded and the movers want the other half in cash upon delivery. We're tight on money and will have difficulty raising $2500 in cash. I don't want to make it sound like we're complaining just because we don't have the money. I think what the company did with the estimate was shady. The list of items that we sent them was completely accurate with what they actually took. How can the difference between the estimate and actual price jump $3000 when we didn't add ANYTHING? They knew EXACTLY what they were picking up, how can they tack on so much extra money after they made the estimate?

I've done some research and the following aspects of the move seem shady:
Apparently, they CANNOT charge more than their binding estimate if we don't send extra stuff. We didn't.

They charged us by cubic feet, which might be illegal according to this thread

This website says movers can charge by cubic feet, but only if the estimate was in cubic feet. Our estimate was based on weight.

The company didn't do a physical inspection of our furniture before the day of the move, which doesn't seem exactly kosher according to some of these websites.
Is there any way we can get the charges reduced? We're not trying to get out of this bill, we just don't think we should have to pay more than our binding estimate. If we call the company and bring up the points listed above, will they knock off that extra $3000? Is there some kind of oversight organization to which we can report them? Can we sue? (although I hate immediately jumping to the "let's sue them!" thought)

Or should we just suck it up, find the cash, and take this as a life lesson?
posted by Nickel to Travel & Transportation (25 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
isn't this the standard moving company scam?

should be still in the realm of small claims, so sue.
posted by tremspeed at 11:00 PM on August 27, 2008

Response by poster: Yeah, I've learned in my research that it is a common scam. Unfortunately I didn't know this ahead of time.
posted by Nickel at 11:03 PM on August 27, 2008

Best answer: 20 years in the moving industry and I still say "The moving industry is its own worst enemy." Stick to your guns, DO NOT pay them the difference, the money is the leverage. If they have it you have to get it from them, and good luck. Threaten to sue and then follow through. Don't plead your case on the phone with them, put everything in writing and send it certified. Companies like these operate with the attitude that you will just pay to get it over with, stick it to em! In the end they do not want to handle your property till the court decides who is right, because they will lose. Life lesson yes, but not sucking it up and paying. Feel free to email me for any more assistance.
posted by pianomover at 11:20 PM on August 27, 2008 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice. I worry that if we refuse to pay, they will keep our furniture in their storage at $300/month. We might end up with a $6000 bill in a year. Could they do that?

They're delivering the furniture next week and we don't NEED any of it in the near future - should we refuse the delivery?
posted by Nickel at 11:28 PM on August 27, 2008

I'd go with the advising them that you are notifying the BBB, consumer advocacy groups, notifying the state AG, and will be following the matter up via small claims court and then I'd start documenting everything, dates, times of conversations, who you spoke with, what their position was.

And then start following up with all of the above, including sending certified copies of your correspondence to the BBB and the state AG to the moving company. You're going to have to make it worth their while to get you out of their hair so they can go pick on someone who isn't so well informed or prepared to make their scam such a pain in the rear to pull off. It will hopefully not take much, but the rule of the game is document everything with as much detail as you possibly can in the event that you do need to go to court you have an accurate and concise record of what transpired for your side of the story.
posted by iamabot at 11:47 PM on August 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The people who bought the condo I used to own ran into something like this when they moved in. The movers were total scumbags who, among other things, refused to unload the furnishings until they were paid double what had been agreed upon. The new owners paid the amount, and were later told by the cops, "That was illegal. You should have called us and we would have made them unload the stuff."

If the laws are the same where you're going to be living, you might consider calling in the cops for the delivery.
posted by orange swan at 12:26 AM on August 28, 2008 [4 favorites]

I would take delivery of the furniture, pay them what they told you in the estimate, and then kick them out. Then they have to attempt to collect the rest of the money from you, which they won't do. You had a contract with them and you simply saw it through, and there's nothing wrong with that. Otherwise, if you refuse delivery, you just lost your furniture.
posted by luckypozzo at 12:27 AM on August 28, 2008

Best answer: Nickel: They're delivering the furniture next week and we don't NEED any of it in the near future

Pianomover: Companies like these operate with the attitude that you will just pay to get it over with

You could take advantage of this very mechanism.

Get a lawyer to look over your contract with them, and fill out all the court forms to sue the movers for breach of contract (you can also do this yourself, but more on this later).

Contact your local police, tell them what's happened and say you're worried the big muscular scam artists will get violent. With a bit of luck they'll send a cop to your house on delivery day.

Get the lawyer to come around to your house on delivery day too (or your dad in a suit if you're self-lawyering).

When the movers show up, you, the lawyer and the cop meet them and explain that they can either unload your stuff and get paid the contract rate, or accept your court papers and end up storing your stuff at their expense, then delivering your stuff and paying a bunch of court fees and punitive damages.

The movers will phone their boss who (we hope) will determine it's less bother to just unload the stuff, rather than to go to court when he's certain to lose.

The good news is you save money on a tip...
posted by Mike1024 at 12:38 AM on August 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yes, it's a great idea to get the police involved. Have them waiting when the movers show up. It's your best bet.
posted by luckypozzo at 12:39 AM on August 28, 2008 [3 favorites]

The police will not get involved in an alleged crime. Until the transaction is complete no crime has transpired. Ultimately the police may take a report and you then will have to deal with the either your states regulatory board or the Fed's. Companies operating like this will hold your goods as collateral prior to the unload. Hit them now prior to arrival, let them know you will not take delivery unless they do so at the agreed price. Force them to justify the additional fees with valid documentation.They are pulling a scam, call them on it and they will give in.
posted by pianomover at 1:12 AM on August 28, 2008

What company are you dealing with?

These threads pop up on a Google search. Do the potential next-guy a favor and spill the beans.
posted by Bokononist at 1:54 AM on August 28, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the advice, everyone.

The paperwork I have from the day of the move lists the final price ($5300), but not how they got it. The lines for weight/cubic feet/price per pound/etc are left blank. Is that something we can use? Should we call the company and ask them for proof of how they got that figure?

After seeing all the responses here, I think we're going to tell the movers that we will only pay the remaining balance on the original estimate. If they refuse to unload the truck, do you think the police would come?

On the day of the move, I did sign the paper that said $5300, does that make the original estimate moot?
posted by Nickel at 1:57 AM on August 28, 2008

Response by poster: Oh, and also - my mother made all the moving arrangements and paid for it. I was the one who was at the house on the day the movers arrived. Even if I signed something, my mother was the one in charge of the move - does that make it better? Could we say that I didn't have the authority to agree to the new price?
posted by Nickel at 1:59 AM on August 28, 2008

Response by poster: Bokononist, good idea! I'll name the company once the delivery date has passed next week and we either have our furniture or are for sure going to court.
posted by Nickel at 2:00 AM on August 28, 2008

Can someone enlighten the foreigner? What on earth is a binding estimate? Surely, by definition, an 'estimate' is an approximate value that may not be the same as the final one. Is a "binding estimate" what we'd call a "quotation"?
posted by twine42 at 4:42 AM on August 28, 2008

Best answer: The Consumerist suggests calling your state department of Weights and Measures.

Some guy who is a public information officer for the Dept of W&M says:
Here in AZ we get involved with interstate moving complaints quite a bit. Basically if there's a dispute we'll show up and give a moving company three options:

1. Deliver for the original price, not the inflated one.
2. We take the truck to a certified commercial scale to be weighed. Then the truck returns to the consumer's address and unloads. We then take the truck back to the scale a second time to be weighed. The difference between the two tells us how much the furniture weighed. Based on the price per pound, we then know the true cost.
3. The driver can try to leave, but that could lead to arrest on charges of theft. We always call out the local police for assistance. Two drivers have gone to jail.

We save an average of $1,400 for consumers. In the past year we've saved them more than $100,000. A few weeks ago we saved one consumer $11,000.
posted by Comrade_robot at 4:45 AM on August 28, 2008 [8 favorites]

On the day of the move, I did sign the paper that said $5300, does that make the original estimate moot?

Oof. Yeah, that's going to hurt your case. Most the mover scam-protection stuff is aimed at the price shooting up on delivery, but if you signed at the $5300 price, you should have said something then, namely - "That's double the estimate. Unload the truck. I'll use someone else unless the price goes down or you can account for the rise in price."
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:13 AM on August 28, 2008

Yeah, signed the higher price really, really hurts you, and makes it seem like you're trying to screw the movers out of money you agreed to pay them.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 6:06 AM on August 28, 2008

Signed it? My condolences, but you're probably hosed. Getting a lawyer may be your only chance to recoup, and I wouldn't bet on it.
posted by aramaic at 7:06 AM on August 28, 2008

Response by poster: I know, I feel like an idiot. At the time I signed it because the furniture had already been loaded on the truck and I didn't see any other options. I did say that the price was higher and even called in to the main office to talk to them about it. Does it help that the thing I signed only said the final price and not how they arrived at it (so much per cubic foot, x cubic feet)? Does it help that I wasn't the one arranging the move and was only on site let the movers in and lock up after them?
posted by Nickel at 7:16 AM on August 28, 2008

Response by poster: Basically what I mean is, could we ask them to provide proof of the weight of the truck that shows why the price is so high given their original $0.57/pound estimate?

Also, looking at the thing I signed - my mother's name is at the top as the shipper. My mother and I also have different last names.
posted by Nickel at 7:25 AM on August 28, 2008

Response by poster: We're in California - any tips on agencies that we can contact? I will definitely contact our local weights and measures office, and also try giving the police a call. Anyone else?
posted by Nickel at 7:29 AM on August 28, 2008

ok, i'm gonna give some contraversal advice. yuo did pretty much hose yrself by signing the the revised contract. as you now know, that was when you had to bitch, or at least not sign it. There's a lot you could have done, but now it's harder. the things i'm recommending are not very ethical, but then sometimes you need to fight fire with fire. use at yr own risk.

1. if your mom signed the old contract, have her there when the furniture comes. when the stuff's all unloaded, she whips out the original signed document. yeah, there will be a conniption, but when the cops show up, the movers will look like the bad ones. if you can do this, don't even show up.

2. tell 'em that you'll pay, but that you need an extra week or so for the second half. offer them something like 3k at delivery, and the balance 2 weeks later. then renig. a popular way to handle this is by writing them 2 checks, and you'll need to stop payment on the second one.

3. pay all up front, cancel the check, and send a smaller check via mail. (note--don't send it 'registered'--they probably have a policy refusing all registered mail, to avoid being sued. the check being cashed is what you really want to see, btw)

try not to pay cash, or pay only the original amount in cash and some other form of cancellable payment. be prepared with a plausible story about why you can't provide a cashier's check/credit card/cash payment for all of it, but don't act pissed off--act apologigetic and sorry because you can't pay it all up front.

the worst case scenario is that they'll sue you. most likely, they'll just sell the debt, and when collectors call, tell them to send proof of the debt or suck off. if you get to court, tell your story.

good luck if you try any of these suggestions. they'll require cajones.

btw, in illinois, a contract isn't valid for three days after it's signed (or just cancellable) if it wasn't signed in a place of business. since yours was signed at home, you have three days to cancel. not sure if that applies here, but it might.
posted by lester at 10:51 AM on August 28, 2008

'try not to pay cash, or pay only the original amount in cash and some other form of cancellable payment.'

that should be pay cash, and make the extended payment a cancellable form of payment'
posted by lester at 10:53 AM on August 28, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for your advice, everyone. Here's what I've learned from all my research. Hopefully it will help someone else.

First of all, moving scams are VERY common! Companies give an estimate, wait until all the furniture is loaded and then announce that the charge will be much greater. Apparently these companies are hoping that we will pay their money because we don't want to lose our furniture. They're also hoping that we will never get around to threatened lawsuits later because we'll be tired of the ongoing battle and will just be happy to have our furniture back.

Do your research before you move:, Moving Problems, FMCSA's Protect Your Move page, and Arizona's Weights and Measures Rogue Movers page are sites that I SHOULD have looked at before planning this move.

Your Rights and Responsibilities is a pamphlet that movers are required to give to you.

If you've been scammed:
1. Get help and advice: Here is a list of resources by state, MoveRescue was created to assist those who have been deceived by unscrupulous moving companies. You can call a toll free number for help, advice, and legal referrals.

2. As Comrade_robot pointed out, call your local Weights and Measures office. Arizona's Department of Weights and Measures will step in and help Arizona residents who have been scammed by movers. Their investigators have the authority to make trucks go to weigh stations before and after unloading your furniture. Unfortunately, California's Weights and Measures does not do this so this appears to be on a state by state basis.

3. Call the police if the moving company is holding your furniture hostage illegally.

4. Sue to recoup your money: This site has a lawyer locater to help find local transportation lawyers. You can call a few in your area to get their opinions on the strength of your case and how much they would charge to represent you.

5. File complaints with: FMCSA, AMSA, state level moving associations, and the Better Business Bureau.
posted by Nickel at 1:30 PM on August 30, 2008 [4 favorites]

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