Moving your household belongings anywhere, even just across the Silicon Valley, can be difficult enough. Getting into a dispute with your moving company, which can be very costly and inconvenient, can feel like a headache on steroids.

Consumer watchdogs are seeing an increase in a particularly nasty type of scam in which moving companies give lowball estimates to customers, then inflate their fees once the truck is loaded, holding customers’ possessions hostage until they pay the higher cost.

Consumer Reports recently issued a warning after Massachusetts officials sued one moving company. The state of New Jersey sued two other movers for “grossly inflating fees” after trucks were loaded. The Better Business Bureau received more than 8,500 complaints about movers in 2012, making moving fee inflation one of the agency’s most frequently heard gripes.

Consumer Reports suggests Silicon Valley residents not rely on newspaper, phonebook, or online ads to obtain the names of movers. Instead, get recommendations from Peninsula friends, family, or your real estate agent.
Peninsula residents should receive licensing information and use a mover who has a marked truck and puts everything in writing, Consumer Reports warns.

For residents in Hillsborough, Burlingame, and the greater Silicon Valley, moving companies are regulated by the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which offers advice and an exhaustive mover’s guide on its website.

The PUC also makes available a summary of recent investigations of moving companies. The latest update notes more than two dozen enforcement actions against companies that failed to get proper state licenses or engaged in fraudulent activities, including eight movers in the Silicon Valley. The California PUC said it helped consumers get refunds totaling more that $13,000 from moving companies.

Another excellent source of information for those preparing to hire movers is the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Protect Your Move website, which is packed with good moving advice and includes a new section on “hostage loads.” The agency notes that “complaints of household goods shipments held hostage are a priority.”

If you are selling your home and planning a move, get as much information as you can before you hire a mover. If you are concerned that you may have been scammed, immediately contact the PUC, the Better Business Bureau, and your local consumer-protection agency. If you feel a mover is illegally holding your possessions, call the police.

Need advice about moving in the Silicon Valley? Give me a call at (650) 207-5192, and I can help you choose the right company to move your belongings so you don’t get that killer headache.