Your clients have spent most of their lives working to save for retirement, their children have gone out on their own, and the family home is becoming too much of a chore to maintain. Or, perhaps they’re looking to cash in on their investment. Downsizing to a smaller house, condo or apartment might just be the answer. It’s time to call the movers. But are they legit?

Beware of the moving scam

Unfortunately, moving scams are on the rise. If consumers choose the wrong company, they could end up paying a lot more for a move than expected. Prepare your clients with the resources they need to make the right financial decisions so downsizing doesn’t become a decision they regret.

Did you know that financial fraud is the most common form of abuse seniors face as they age in Canada?1

What’s the risk?

When your clients age, there’s a chance their health will decline, they may lose a spouse and become lonely or vulnerable. It’s this vulnerability that can put them in a position where they’re pressured to make impulsive financial decisions.

By promoting inflated promises and fabricated service listings, rogue movers prey on people who trust they’re dealing with a reputable company that’s given them all the facts. What the scammers don’t count on, is an educated consumer.

One step ahead

As an advisor, you’re committed to helping clients follow a path to lifetime financial security. But security isn’t just about total asset values, it’s the confidence clients have in knowing their advisor is looking out for them in all financial aspects of their lives. If your clients are considering relocation, show them you’re thinking about practical solutions to protect their interests.

Here are a few warning signs that can help clients spot a possible moving scam:

1. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

It was supposed to be a simple move for Derek and Michele. They already downsized once before and figured with less belongings and household clutter, they wouldn’t need a lot of help. The couple was anxious to go from their three-bedroom ranch to a condo a few blocks away. Michele was delighted to find an online ad offering a great rate for a hassle-free move. She made the call and verbally confirmed the $50/hr flat rate for a truck and two men.

But when the movers arrived the day of the move, things didn’t go as planned. After one of the men began loading the furniture, the other asked Michele to sign the paperwork. When she started reading the details she noticed the rate had more than doubled — she wasn’t just paying by the hour, she was being charged $75 for each mover. Apparently the $50 was an old rate. There were also many other fees added to the contract that weren’t disclosed during the initial verbal agreement that included:

  • $125 for each flight of stairs,
  • $100 for oversized items,
  • $25 per hour surcharge for weekend moves,
  • $350 deposit, and
  • a 18% gratuity charge.

Michele and Derek were upset and sent the movers away, putting a stop to the move before things went any further.

While some of the added fees may be common in the industry, they need to be clearly communicated ahead of time. It’s not a good idea for clients to let movers start work until they’ve had a chance to review and agree to the details in writing. The rogue mover in this hypothetical story baited the couple using a cheap price with the intention of switching to exorbitant fees once everything was loaded.

2. The mover won’t provide a binding quote.

The reality is the mover should have offered Derek and Michele a binding quote well in advance of the move date — and certainly not just before the truck was ready to pull away from the curb. A binding quote is a written contract that means a moving company can’t charge a client anything different from the fixed amount previously agreed upon. Tell your clients to ask for a binding quote during the initial call and if a company isn’t willing to provide one that reflects the verbal agreement, chances are they’re not reputable.

3. The advertised company doesn’t have a physical address.

Fast talking sales people promising surprisingly low service fees lure potential customers in with their online ads. They don’t work from an established headquarters or keep a fleet of trucks. In many cases all it takes for rogue movers to get started is a cell phone. The hook is set but it’s up to clients to determine how long they’ll let themselves stay on the line. Signs that can tip clients off they’re being scammed aren’t too hard to miss if you know what to look for. Watch for movers who:

  • use a cell phone instead of a land line as their primary contact,
  • don’t provide customers with a fixed head office address,
  • drive unmarked trucks, and
  • deal in cash only.

4. A background check comes up empty.

Even if initial conversations with potential movers seem pleasant, caution is still the best approach. Encourage your clients to do their homework. They should ask for estimates from at least three other established movers in the area so that they can compare the options and the costs. In addition to the written estimates, reputable movers will be happy to provide references that authenticate their reputation and work history.

Bogus moving companies won’t likely be registered or certified with the Canadian Association of Movers or the Better Business Bureau and may refuse to come to a client’s home to conduct a visual pre-inspection.

If you want to protect your clients from moving scams, education is the key. It might take more time to research all their options, but it’s worth it. You can find more useful resources, checklists and tips by visiting the federal government’s consumer information page.

1 Federal/Provincial/Territorial Ministers Responsible for Seniors Forum – What every older Canadian should know about financial abuse, 2010