Final of 5-part consumer alert series to help New Yorkers navigate housing scams
Submitted by the New York Department of State’s Division of Consumer Protection
For this week’s “Tuesday’s Tips,” the New York Department of State’s Division of Consumer Protection announced the release of a comprehensive guide that provides consumers with important tips to avoid moving and storage company scams.
Moving your belongings can a be stressful process and, unfortunately, scammers use these situations to defraud consumers out of thousands of dollars. The guide is the final part of a five-part consumer alert series to help New Yorkers navigate housing scams, which remain a growing risk for consumers.
“Hiring a moving or storage company and trusting them with your belongings is a big decision that requires a lot of research and consideration,” Secretary of State Robert J. Rodriguez said. “A company may appear to be a trusted business online, but in reality, they may be professional scammers looking to steal your belongings or your hard-earned money. The best protection against these scams is being informed, and following our tips can go a long way in helping to prevent things from going wrong during your move or while storing your possessions.”
New York State Department of Transportation Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez said, “When it comes to the moving and handling of your personal possessions, it’s imperative to hire a company you can trust. One thing consumers can do before they hire a moving company is verify that the company has been granted operating authority by the New York State Department of Transportation.”
There are many things to take into consideration when looking for a moving and storage company. Hiring the right company can go a long way to protect your personal belongings, money and peace of mind. Below are tips to help minimize the risk of being scammed.
Tips When Moving:
•Pay attention to bait and switch sales practices. This deceptive practice involves providing an initial misleading quote and then making last-minute changes to agreed-upon price quotes. Be wary of companies that offer instant quotes instead of gathering detailed information to provide an accurate estimate. When you receive a binding estimate, you cannot be required to pay more than that amount, unless you’ve requested additional services after.
•Pay attention to deceptive business practices. Deceptive business practices include late deliveries with no advance notification, delivering damaged items, missing items, holding items hostage until consumers provide additional amounts of money, or failure to fulfill any of its contractual obligations. Avoid dealing with any business that engages in these practices by doing general online research and learning your rights as outlined below.
•Review all terms and conditions prior to loading. Before the movers have moved any of your items into the truck, meet with the company representative at your home to review material terms of the contract, most notably the cost and delivery terms.
•Do general online research. Confirm that the moving company is an honest and reputable business with a physical address, has detailed contact information and is rated well by others in consumer reviews. Check the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) National Consumer Complaint Database; or the Better Business Bureau, which has a searchable database of consumer reviews.
•Hire licensed or registered movers. Before hiring a moving company, confirm that it’s a government-regulated entity.
√ Moves within New York state (NYS): All moving companies must be licensed in New York. The New York State Department of Transportation licenses companies for moves statewide. To ensure your moving company has valid New York state operating authority, contact the NYS Department of Transportation at 518-457-6512 or email [email protected]; or, for more information, go to https://www.dot.ny.gov/divisions/operating/osss/truck/moving. When checking on a mover, please provide their exact name and, if available, NYDOT number.
√ Moving out of state: Make sure the mover is insured and registered with the federal government. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) registers companies that meet legal and safety requirements for moves between New York and other states. You can look up whether an interstate moving company is registered through the FMCSA’s Mover Registration Search function.
•Get multiple estimates. Plan to get estimates from at least three companies. Do not rely on any estimates provided over the phone or email without an additional inquiry on the number of items to be moved. Moving companies should gather detailed information about the number of items you need to move.
•Pay attention to hidden or additional charges. Be wary of requests for large upfront payments or full payments in advance.
•Never sign a blank or incomplete estimate. Unscrupulous movers could use the blank or incomplete estimate to change the terms of your move, including the cost, without your knowledge or consent.
•Get written estimates and contracts. Moving companies should give multiple documents before, during and after your move, with information on the requested services, cost calculations and other agreements between you and the movers. Make sure you understand which terms in these documents are estimates, which can change later, and which are contractual agreements. Scammers might try talking you out of signing written contracts if for some reason items get lost or stolen.
•Create an inventory of your belongings. Make a photo record and keep a written inventory of all your items.
•Know your rights. Insist the mover provide you with a Summary of Information booklet from the New York State Department of Transportation that describes your rights as a shipper. For interstate moves, the company is required to share the FMCSA’s guide, which includes details specific to interstate moves. Read these guides thoroughly to know your rights and responsibilities throughout the moving process.
•Learn more about hiring moving companies. Visit the FMCSA’s Protect Your Move website for more resources on interstate movers. See the NYS Department of Transportation’s website for more information on hiring movers within New York.
•Try to resolve any disputes. If you have a dispute with an interstate mover, file a complaint with the FMCSA on their National Consumer Complaint Database. If the move occurred entirely in New York state, first notify the company in writing as soon as possible. If you can’t resolve the issue with the company and the dispute relates to the loss or damage of your goods, file a complaint with DCP. For all other moving disputes, file a complaint with the New York State Department of Transportation.
Tips When Looking for Storage Facilities:
•Pay attention to price. Unscrupulous storage facilities often lure customers into leasing storage units by advertising one price, then hiking up those prices shortly after they sign a lease. Read the fine print and look for details in the promotional offers.
•Carefully review written agreements. Under New York state law, storage facilities are required to outline details surrounding the safety of the items being stored and any associated costs. These details include:
√ Where the occupant’s personal property will be stored;
√ The monthly cost of the unit, including extra fees; and
√ The facilities’ liability if something goes wrong.
It’s important to pay attention to the details related to the responsibility of your possessions, the amount of notice for raising rent, and the terms under which you’re deemed to have defaulted.
•Visually inspect storage facilities. Check the security of any self-storage area. Confirm if the facility has a working surveillance system and good security. Confirm any advertised climate-controlled or temperature-controlled facilities are operating as advertised. Confirm the quality and cleanliness of the unit before you rent. Ensure the doors and locks work. Also ensure there are no entry points for rodents, and that it is clear of any belongings or debris.
•Know your rights. If you fall behind on payment, a storage facility can sell your possessions to cover costs. However, before they do that, they must provide you with an opportunity to pay the unpaid balance by providing an advance notice detailing an itemized statement of the amount due, description of the property, time and place of the sale and demand for payment.
If the occupant is incapacitated or deceased, a trusted person should contact the storage facility to find out what steps to take to preserve the occupant’s property.
•Exceptions for the military. Storage facilities cannot sell the possessions of active service members due to non-payment. Service members have 90 days after they complete their service to pay and recover items.
About the New York State Division of Consumer Protection
The New York State Division of Consumer Protection provides resources and education materials to consumers, as well as voluntary mediation services between consumers and businesses. The consumer assistance helpline (1-800-697-1220) is available from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays, excluding state holidays. Consumer complaints can be filed at any time at www.dos.ny.gov/consumer-protection. For other consumer protection tips and consumer alerts, consumers can follow the New York Department of State on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and check in every Tuesday for more practical tips that educate and empower consumers on a variety of topics. Sign up to receive consumer alerts directly to an email or phone here.