As a service member, you move more frequently than most people. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources available to help you find a new place to live and a moving company to transport your belongings there. You'll have an even greater chance of a smooth move if you learn to avoid some common scams that target people when they're planning for or are in the middle of relocating.
Warning signs of a rental scam
Scammers who prey on people looking for a home to rent may copy the text and photo of an actual rental ad but change the contact information and post it on another online site. Beware of the following red flags:
- The rent is lower than the rent for similar properties. Often scammers will advertise low rent to lure people in.
- No one is available to show you the property. The owner may give you an address to look at the outside of the place, but claim to be out of the country or traveling, and therefore unable to show you the inside of the home.
- The owner doesn't ask for references. Be suspicious if the landlord doesn't care to do a background check to confirm that you can afford the rent.
- The owner asks for a deposit before you've seen the rental property. Never put down a deposit without inspecting a place to confirm that it's for rent. If you can't visit the place yourself, ask a trusted friend to look at the property and confirm that it's for rent.
- The owner wants you to wire money for the security deposit, first month's rent or application fee. Wiring money is like sending cash. Wiring provides no special protections.
Protecting yourself from rental scams
Take the following measures to protect yourself from rental scams:
- Compare the advertised rent to other rents in the area. A fraudster may try to lure you in with the promise of a bargain. Search other listings to determine the market rate in the area. If a property is advertised at a rent far below those of comparable properties, it may be a sham listing.
- Do an online search of the listing. Type the landlord's name, the property address and other details from the listing into a search engine. If you find the same or a very similar ad with different contact information, that may be a sign that it's a scam.
- Check the property owner's name with the assessor's office in the municipality where the property is located. If it doesn't match, you may be dealing with a scammer.
- Work with an established property-management agency or realtor. This will offer you a measure of reassurance, particularly if you're trying to rent a place while you're still on a deployment.
- Ask your legal assistance office to review your lease before signing. To find an office near you, use the Armed Forces Legal Assistance Locator.
Warning signs of moving scams
A common moving scam involves a mover giving you a low-ball estimate without ever seeing your household goods. After the movers have loaded the truck and transported the goods, they raise the price, citing unexpected costs. By law, it's illegal to charge more than 10 percent above a non-binding estimate.
Here are some signs of a moving scam:
- The mover gives you an estimate over the phone or online without visually inspecting the items the company will be transporting.
- The mover requires a cash deposit before the move.
- The mover doesn't give you a copy of the federal booklet, "Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move." Long-distance movers are required by law to give you a copy of this booklet.
- The mover shows up in a rental truck, rather than a company-owned, marked fleet truck.
Protecting yourself from moving scams
Avoid becoming a victim of a moving scam by taking the following precautions:
- Get written estimates from several movers. The movers should base their estimates on an inspection of your household goods.
- Check the complaint histories of movers you're considering. Look them up with the Better Business Bureau or the consumer agency in your area. Also, type the mover's name and the word "complaint" in an online search engine to see whether there have been any complaints against the mover.
- Choose a mover who is licensed and insured. Movers who transport goods from one state to another will have a Department of Transportation number issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Go to ProtectYourMove.gov or call 202-366-9805 for licensing and 202-385-2423 for insurance to determine if a mover is registered with FMCSA.
- Movers who transport goods within state lines are regulated by the state where they operate. Check your state attorney general's office or your local consumer affairs agency to learn about regulations for in-state movers.
- Visit the moving company's office. You can get a sense of whether the company is legitimate by visiting its place of business.
For more information about making a PCS move, and to find out about scams targeted at families who are moving, check out these podcasts: Preparing to PCS, Foreclosure Rescue Scams and Foreclosure Rescue Scams; Red Flags and Real Help. If you have experienced an unresolved issue with a moving company about their service, submit a complaint on the Consumer Complaint Database at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Consult information about the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, especially if you are a service member preparing for deployment or if you are deployed and are in a rental property.