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Has a Mover Held Your Belongings ‘Hostage’? Here’s What You Can Do

You’ve packed up your household belongings, and the moving company has loaded up practically everything you own for the journey from Houston to Denver (or Kamloops to Edmonton). But once you arrive in the new city, you learn that you can’t get your stuff unless you cough up an extra $760. Surprise! Your possessions likely are being “held hostage” by a shady mover.

While numbers are hard to come by regarding how many people are victimized in this way, it’s safe to say that many of the thousands of complaints lodged each year against moving companies involve “hostage situations.”

The Better Business Bureau describes these shady practices like this: “Consumers and the moving company agree on a price to move personal belongings. At the end of the move, the movers demand extra fees and hold the belongings hostage unless the fees are paid.”

Under US federal law, interstate movers are required to give your belongings to you when you pay 100 percent of the costs in a binding estimate or 110 percent of a non-binding estimate where additional weight or services have caused the final costs to rise. So, what should you do if you’ve been scammed in a “hostage situation”? Here are six tips.

1. Complain to the Moving Company.
Be sure to file a written complaint with the moving company if you’ve been ripped off in a hostage scam. In Canada Consumer Complaint guidelines are to make written complaint within 30 days. It may not fix the problem, Keep a copy – at least you’ll have written evidence of your complaint.

2. Call the Cops.
You should notify local law enforcement “if the moving company fails to live up to its promises or threatens to hold your belongings hostage,” according to the Better Business Bureau. However, says, cops can step in only if a local or state law has been broken.

3. Contact Government Regulators.

Canada`s Office of Consumer Affairs (OCA) promotes the interests and protection of Canadian consumers. Be sure to check out OCA‘s Consumer Checklist for Choosing A Moving Company. The Checklist offers advice about what questions to ask when searching for a moving company, what issues are important to focus on, what red flags should serve as warnings not to hire a certain company and what to do on moving day to make sure the move goes smoothly.

4. Notify the Better Business Bureau.
The Better Business Bureau tracks complaints about both interstate movers and in-state movers. While the bureau may not be able to resolve your dispute, your complaint at least could prevent someone else from being ripped off by the same mover.

5. US residents or moves have
In the USA there is a consumer assistance service aimed at stopping disreputable interstate movers. It’s backed by a network of U.S. law firms, along with moving companies United Van Lines and Mayflower. The service offers legal advice and general guidance to people who’ve been victims of hostage scams and other moving fraud. Call 1(888)368-7238.

6. Do Your Homework.
This actually should be your first step so that you can avoid the five other steps we’ve outlined.

First off, research moving companies you’re thinking about doing business by visiting websites like and Any moving company you hire should be licensed and insured. Another online resource is, which lists moving companies that it has endorsed.

Also, be sure to get written estimates from at least three moving companies; an estimate should be drawn up a representative of each moving company has visited your home.

“It’s unfortunate how people can be taken advantage of during a very stressful time like moving,” said Vee Daniel, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau in Greenville, SC. “Sadly, it happens, so it’s important to do your homework and seek a reputable company you can trust with your personal possessions.”

For more moving advice, visit the moving tips section of and the Office of Consumer Affairs website.


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