What Defines a Scam?

Article posted by on June 01, 2014

By Jeff Walker

In recent months several cases have come to mind that really bring this question to the forefront of discussion.  What defines a scam?  Technically speaking, a scam (or fraud) is the act of a company deceiving their customers for profit or to gain some unfair dishonest advantage during a commercial transaction resulting in a moderate gain for profit.  With the press the fraudulent moving companies have been getting lately, it seems like some people have taken the attitude that “All moving companies are out to get you”.  What we’ve found at MovingScam.com is that with the exception of a few geographical areas, about 95% of the moving companies out there are really trying to give you the best service for your dollar.  It’s not an industry with a high profit margin and is a lot of hard work to boot!

shield onlyThe traditional Scam
The one we here the most about on MovingScam.com is what we’ll call the “Traditional Scam”.  This scam has been running for many years and is the most common tactic used by fraudulent moving companies.

In this situation, almost all customer finds their moving company on the web.  They see a quote that is too good to pass up and contact the moving company to schedule a pickup date.  The day arrives and the moving van shows up with two or three guys to load your items on the truck.  By the end of the day, all of your belongings are on the truck, but there’s a problem.  “You have more stuff than you told us, so it’s going to cost you more”, says the foreman.  The price will go up and you will be forced to pay the inflated amount or never see your belongings again.  It’s a heart-wrenching experience and even if you pay the inflated amount, there is no guarantee you’ll see all of your items again.  If you’ve taken the time to read The True Story, you’ll know that Tim didn’t get all his items returned to him once he paid the ransom price for his delivery.  There were several items, including a computer with several years’ worth of work on it that never made it to his new home.  The traditional scam is so devastating because there are no guarantees that once your belongings are gone, that you’ll see all of them again and intact.

oneroomtapeNew Twist
One of the more recent scams we’ve seen over the years have been companies who stand by their low-ball quote, but inflate the prices of their packing material.  In one instance we saw an article out of Texas where the moving company charged their customer $800 for a roll of packing tape!  So in avoiding being called out for the traditional scam, they were still inflating prices to an unreasonable amount.  The fraud took place because the customers were not informed of the inflated prices prior to the move.

When is a scam NOT a scam?
This gets into a little grey area, as not all moves that incur additional costs are scams.  A lot of it depends on your contract with the moving company.  If you’re unsure of what to look for, read our article “What to look for on your Bill of Lading”.  There are several types of quotes you can get from your mover:

Weight: Your price is dependent upon the weight of your items in the truck.  The truck is weighed before loading your items and again after loading your items.  The weight of the truck by itself subtracted from the weight of the truck plus your items results in the “tare weight”, the actual weight of your items.  This is what your price will be based on.

Linear Feet: The amount of space from the front of the truck to the back of the truck, taken up by your items.  While there are good companies out there that use this method, we recommend you stick with weight, and get a “Guaranteed-not-to-Exceed” quote from your mover.  Fraudulent moving companies can use this method to their advantage by under-packing boxes and taking up more space on the truck, thereby charging you more for your move.

Cubic Feet:  The amount of space used on the truck in three dimensions.  Almost all moving companies will use this method to calculate your rate, but the honest ones will come back and give your rate by weight, not cubic feet.  Just like with linear feet, a dishonest company can take advantage by under-packing your boxes and taking up more room on the truck.

Guaranteed-Not-To-Exceed (GNTE): This type of quote can be issued by moving companies and it’s the one we recommend the most.  The “Guaranteed-Not-To-Exceed” quote comes with a set price with slush room for the moving company of +10% for any unforeseen costs.  This means that the most you will pay, is what is on the quote, plus 10% if the moving company incurs costs that they need to recover, and often times, that 10% never comes into play.  It’s the closest thing to “what you see is what you get” in terms of price.  GNTE quotes are also based on weight (see above).

Knowing this can not only help you prevent being scammed, but can also help you realize when the company is being honest.

Two cases in particular come to mind over the course of the last year, both cases involved well-known reputable moving companies.  The first was a family making a move in Ohio.  They went over their move with their sales person, and planned out the dates and how the move would proceed.  The fee for the move was a flat rate, guaranteed not to exceed quote.  In other words, the price was set before the move.

containerIn this case, the moving company offered the client a GNTE quote, but didn’t have a truck available for the particular dates involved and went back to the customer asking if using moving containers could be used.  The client agreed and two containers showed up on moving day.  The movers managed to pack everything into the first moving container leaving the second untouched.  The move was completed on schedule, but the customer insisted on retrieving the money for the second container since it was not used.  Because the move was contracted for a guaranteed not to exceed quote, it didn’t matter which form of transport was used, whether it was a truck, trailer or container, the price stayed the same.  All of the belongings showed up in good shape and the contract was fulfilled.  The price didn’t go up, yet the customer felt they had been “ripped off” because the second container went unused.  But just because the customer felt that way didn’t make it a scam.  The company in question made a good faith effort to make sure all items were delivered on time and on budget, and the customer wanted to negotiate the price after the completion of the move.

The second case involved an overseas move.  These are some of the hardest moves in the industry because there are so many working parts involved.  It’s actually not uncommon to incur unexpected costs when moving overseas.  If a container is chosen for inspection by port authorities, or it’s later found that a moving vehicle can’t be parked in an area without a parking permit for example, you might expect to see additional fees.  In addition, once your items are packed and loaded onto a container, they are sealed.  If for any reason you need to break this seal to get inside to retrieve items, such as passports accidentally packed into your belongings, this increases the chance of a port inspection and additional fees.

In the case of this international move, the customer insisted that they were being “scammed” because both of the above incidents occurred during the move and the price had increased.  They insisted that the original quote should have included the above items, even though they were unforeseen expenses.  Eventually the case was mediated by the FMC and came to a resolution.

The point to the above examples is that moving can incur unforeseen costs.  This doesn’t mean that they moving company is trying to pull one over on you.  Ask yourself a few questions before jumping the gun:

  1. What were the costs, and do they seem reasonable?
  2. When researching my company, did they come up as reputable, or did they have a history of problems?
  3. Were the changes to my move meant to accommodate me or my schedule, or was it obvious that they were trying to inflate the price?
  4. Did the company violate the 10% rule?

The reality in the moving industry is that it has a low profit margin.  Moving companies rely on volume to make a profit and you can’t get volume by ripping your customers off.  While fraudulent movers can and should be reported, make sure your mover has acted fraudulently before taking that step.