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Boreal Community Media

Former Cook County family falls victim to moving company scam, provides tips for others to avoid a similar situation

Jun 28, 2023 09:17AM ● By Editor
Submitted image of the Crotteau family

By Traci Crotteau for Boreal Community Media - June 28, 2023

Editor's note: This piece has been written by Traci Crotteau to share her family's experience and provide tips on how to prevent others from becoming victims of moving scams. The views expressed in this article are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the official positions or policies of Boreal Community Media. 


Where to begin? Let me serve it to you bluntly. 

My family and I have been sucked into the deep vortex of a moving scam.

Poof! Ninety-eight percent of our personal belongings, GONE. Yes! My beautiful, vintage, recently reupholstered 1960s contour chair. My children’s keepsakes, you know, the ones they wanted to pass along to their children. My husband’s beloved kayak. Our family’s entire history rolled away on rented moving trucks. We haven’t seen our things since the dusty backs of those trucks left our Cook County home in early June. Twenty days and counting as of the day I write this to you, and we don’t know if we’ll ever see any of those items again.

On top of that, we PAID the “moving company” to steal it all. A lot of money. Sigh.

Newsweek article from April of this year reports the United States Department of Transportation (US DOT) as saying, “[Moving scams] more than doubled between 2015 and 2022, from 3,030 to 7,647.”

Additionally, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the administration that oversees moving companies, calculates almost 15,000 filed complaints of moving fraud each year with an average cost to the consumer of $129,000.00.

I don’t want anyone to have to go through this again. It’s a highly, highly stressful situation to be in and we're constantly in a state of problem-solving.

What I want to do now is educate people on moving frauds, and to share with you all how to do better than we did and learn from our mistakes.

How to Learn From our Mistakes

First, we found our “moving company” online. Hire local movers if you can. They have skin in the game, they’ve got a reputation to protect. Be sure to ask around if the company is legitimate and trustworthy. Or, if it’s possible, move yourself. As annoying and stressful as that is, it pales in comparison to having all your personal belongings stolen or held for money. You can also check the FMCSA website or the Better Business Bureau (BBB) for reviews and to verify if the moving company is legitimate.

Second, we hired a broker. We had no idea there were moving brokers. We thought we were hiring a moving company. The broker is the middleman. He works all the logistics of a move. The broker schedules the move, makes sure you have the correct size trucks and packing materials for your move, and hires the actual movers. A broker is not needed for a move. A moving company will do the job just fine. 

Here is how you know if you have a legitimate mover or broker – this list is comprised by the FMCSA:

  • The company should provide a written estimate 

  • The “Ready to Move” Brochure should be accessible, either as a copy or as a hyperlink to the publication on the mover’s or the FMCSA website 

  • Information provided about the mover’s arbitration program

  • A written notice is provided about access to the mover’s tariff 

  • The process for handling claims with the moving company is accessible

  • The booklet, “Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move,” should be provided either as a copy or as a hyperlink to the publication on the mover’s or the FMCSA website

There is a possibility that even if you ask for this information from your mover or broker there is a chance it could be false information (if you're using an illegitimate company).

You can also check to see if a mover is registered with the US DOT. Legitimate movers operate under an assigned US DOT number. Illegitimate companies could provide a fake number; verify any information provided. 

Once your move has begun, the moving company should supply you with the following:

  • An estimate, binding or non-binding 

  • The details of the mover’s liability and how to place a claim if your belongings are stolen, broken, or lost during the move

  • Inventory of your belongings

  • A bill of lading

  • Invoices

  • Weight tickets

Be sure to keep every piece of paper/invoice/contract, every piece of communication you have with them, (including documenting phone conversations), and keep a record of the steps you took to find the company.

You can also place tracking devices in random boxes of your personal belongings.

Oh Oh – You’ve Been Scammed! What Now?

Okay, now you have an idea as to how to hire a reputable moving company. 

Here are some steps to take if you think you’ve been the victim of a moving scam: 

  • Call your local law enforcement, to create a record of the incident or 911 if discussions with the company escalate

  • Do not give the company additional money, and do not sign additional contracts

  • When they’re at your home, document the license plates and the US DOT information on the moving trucks

  • Put a tracking device in a number of boxes of your own belongings

  • Spread the word about your experience with the specific company, including on social media and with local media outlets

  • Hire an attorney

  • Contact your State Representatives to report the company and share your experience

  • File Fraud Complaints with the following agencies:

    • FMCSA

    • US DOT

    • Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

    • The Attorney General’s Office for the state where the move began and ended

    • Your local Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) 

    • The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) 

    • The Better Business Bureau 

Moving scams are costly and time-consuming for the consumer and a lot of times there is no resolution. The scammers, more times than not, get away with the scam. 

A Bit of History

How do moving scammers continue to get by scamming folks time and again? Well, laws dating back to 1906 (Carmack Amendment), 1980, and some mid-1990s court interpretations have made it so. 

The Newsweek article referenced at the beginning of this article elaborates on why we are where we are today, fuel for the fire so-to-speak, “Hampering the agency's [FMCSA] efforts has been a 2019 decision by an administrative law judge that found the FMCSA didn't have authority to assess penalties for violations of laws regulating moving companies. Agency officials have told Newsweek the decision has dramatically limited their ability to take on the growing problem, and that it would require action by Congress to close the enforcement gap.”

This is where calling our state representatives becomes helpful. I’ll be doing so, I want to see these scams come to a screeching halt. We need better laws and we need to educate local law enforcement on how to better handle these situations in the heat of the moment.

When Will it Ever End?

When the movers came to deliver our personal belongings at our new home on June 14, 2023, we declined to give them more money and declined to sign additional contracts with them. Our discussions escalated on our lawn, so we called 911. Two county sheriff’s deputies responded to that call. After speaking to me and my husband and the driver of the moving truck, the deputies conferred with the District Attorney (DA). The DA, declared it a civil matter and said the driver was free to go with our belongings. Today, we do not know where our belongings are being stored. The broker of the moving company continues to demand more money for the return of our items and demands we sign more contracts. We never see the contracts he’s referring to, he’s never passed them along. We are definitely caught in the moving scam vortex. When will it end? The jury is still out.

Until then, we sit on borrowed camp chairs, we use the same four bath towels that we packed for the in-between-the-move time, oh, and we wear the same week’s worth of clothing.

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