updated 5/18/2005 7:34:59 AM ET 2005-05-18T11:34:59

Finding a mover is not a task to be taken lightly. After all, families are entrusting most of their worldly goods to a stranger.

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But some people make only a few cursory phone calls or pick a company at random off the Internet and end up with a mover who doesn't respect pickup and delivery schedules, tries to overcharge or won't take responsibility for damage.

Consumers need to do solid research to find a reliable mover, experts say, and they shouldn't wait until the last minute or they're more likely to be the victims of a scammer.

Better Business Bureaus around the country received more than 10,200 complaints about movers last year, making it the 16th largest category out of 3,480 different business the bureaus track, according to Sheila Adkins, spokeswoman for the Council of Better Business Bureaus Inc. in Arlington, Va.

"What we usually get are contractual issues, refund issues, holding goods 'hostage' issues — essentially money issues," Adkins said. "The biggest problem seems to be that consumers are quoted one price when the goods are picked up but, at the destination, they're told that price was wrong and they're given a different, usually higher, price."

That's what happened to Armando and Sharon Bayolo of Alexandria, Va. Two years ago, when they were moving back to the East Coast from Oregon, Sharon Bayolo found a Web site that promised a number of bids from different movers.

She chose the one promising the lowest price — and then her problems began.

The couple didn't know it at the time, but they had hired a broker, not a mover, and the broker was slow to deliver on promises, Sharon Bayolo said. They weren't given the name of the moving company until shortly before they were scheduled to leave Oregon. The movers didn't show up to pack when they said they would. They grossly underestimated the weight of the shipment.

The Bayolos had been told the move would cost $1,300, but when the time came to deliver their goods — days later than promised — the moving company wanted $4,300.

They managed to get their household belongings after giving the movers a check for $1,500 and promising to pay the rest. The couple instead hired an attorney, who spent six months fighting the moving company's demand for more money.

Sharon Bayolo, who is a band teacher, now volunteers at the educational Web site www.movingscam.com to help other consumers avoid getting entrapped.

Household goods held hostage
Tim Walker, 35, of Des Moines, Iowa, founded www.movingscam.com after his household goods were held hostage by a mover who had bid $1,800 for the job and demanded $5,200 on delivery. One of Walker's computers went missing, as did a box of power tools. And some of his furniture was damaged.

Despite filing a number of complaints with police and the Department of Transportation, "I never got anything back," Walker said. He added, though, he got some satisfaction when the mover later was indicted for money laundering, mail fraud, extortion and other crimes.

Despite his problems, Walker believes most movers are honest. But he advises consumers that they can avoid the pain he and others have gone through by carefully researching a moving company before hiring it.

This includes getting recommendations from relatives and friends and getting a bid in writing.

Details, details, details
Consumers also should check out movers with their local Better Business Bureau or state consumer protection office. If it's an interstate move, consumers can determine if the mover is registered by checking the Web site of the Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration at www.fmcsa.dot.gov or by calling 888-368-7238.

David Sparkman of the American Moving and Storage Association, a trade group headquartered in Alexandria, Va., said consumers "should do the same research in selecting a mover as you would if you were buying an auto or house." And he recommends families insist on detailed bids in writing.

The association offers a handbook for consumers titled "A Practical Guide to Interstate Moving" on its Web site at www.moving.org. It also has a referral service for moving companies that have agreed to abide by the association's standards, and it has an arbitration service to help resolve loss and damage claims.

"The single biggest mistake is that families don't plan ahead," Sparkman said. "It's not uncommon for a mover to get a call asking for a truck next week."

He recommends consumers start their search for a mover six weeks to eight weeks before they want to move.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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