What To Do If Movers Are Holding Your Things Hostage

Asha Kennedy
Dec 31, 2022
Icon Time To Read5 min read

Hiring a professional moving company can be a huge financial investment—and if you’ve shelled out thousands of dollars for one but didn’t get what you paid for, you may feel like you’ve been scammed. 

Keep reading if you are worried that your moving company is holding your belongings hostage and learn more about what to do if this happens to you.

Contact your coordinator

If you are experiencing a moving delay and feel like you’ve been waiting too long for delivery, don’t panic! Take a deep breath, and then call (or email) your move coordinator. Document all attempts to contact them if you are unable to reach them—this will help in case you need to escalate the issue to management.

As long as your moving company isn’t asking you for more money, you shouldn’t have any reason to believe it is holding your things hostage. If your moving company requests more money to release your shipment to you, keep reading.

Take a look at your contract

Your mover is bound to the terms of your signed contract. This includes pickup and delivery dates. Should your delivery be delayed, most reputable moving companies will offer a “moving day claim” or “delivery day claim” for reimbursement for out-of-pocket daily life expenses while you wait for delivery.

What are the different types of contracts?

Your moving company generally provides you with an estimate at the beginning of your move, which you and your original salesperson should sign. This estimate should either be nonbinding, binding, or binding-not-to-exceed. 

Nonbinding estimates: If your estimate is nonbinding, you may be required to pay additional fees if your final weight or services needed were different from the ones on your original estimate. However, per federal law, you should not have to pay more than 110% of your originally estimated price.

Binding or binding-not-to-exceed: If your estimate was binding (or binding-not-to-exceed) and you paid 100% of the estimated costs, then your moving company should not be asking you for more money at delivery.

Moving with a broker could be costly.

Be wary: moving scams are more common with moving brokers, especially if they’re not registered with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). This is because moving brokers are technically the middle person—they do not own any trucks or employ moving professionals. Instead, they are sales teams that book your move and then sell it to an actual moving company, and they do not have the same responsibilities as moving companies do.

Notify law enforcement

According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), you should call the cops if you feel like a moving company has “failed to live up to its promises to you,” or if they’re holding your things hostage. 

The police may only be able to step in if a moving company has broken a local or state law, but it’s a good idea to have a record of the filing if you have to take further action.

Contact the right agencies

Again, you can contact the Better Business Bureau to file a formal complaint against your moving company if it has failed to address them with you directly. This may encourage the company to respond more quickly to your concerns. 

You can also reach out to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) if you’ve hired a moving company for a state-to-state move and feel like you’ve been scammed. Your filing could “trigger a federal enforcement investigation against the mover.” If it ends up ruling in your favor, the FMCSA can fine a mover up to $10,000 a day for holding your things hostage. Here’s what you’ll need to file a complaint with the FMCSA:

  • Your name, address, and telephone number
  • The name, address, and telephone number of the moving company or broker your hired
  • Origin and destination cities for your shipment
  • U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) and Motor Carrier (MC) identification numbers, if available
  • Your explanation of the violations you believe you witnessed

If you’ve hired a moving company or broker for an in-state move, you’ll want to contact the state agency (or consumer protection department) that regulates moving companies in your area. For example, if you live in California, you can contact the Bureau of Household Goods and Services to file a complaint against a mover.

Share your experience

You can always leave reviews on public-facing websites, like Yelp or Google. Sometimes, you can even leave a review on the company website. These are great options for sharing your experience with other potential customers, but don’t be surprised if your moving company doesn’t respond.

You can also share your ordeal with MoveRescue, (an organization sponsored by United Van Lines and Mayflower) that can provide legal advice and tips to customers facing hostage scams or other moving fraud situations. Share your experience online or reach them at 800-832-1773.

Prepare for next time

Don’t let a bad experience scare you into believing all moving companies are out to get you. There are plenty of reputable moving companies out there to choose from, and we’ve got some steps you can take to avoid moving company scams the next time you need to move:

  1. Do your research and find all the information you can about the company you’re considering, including reviews from websites like MovingScam.com
  2. Determine if the moving company is licensed and insured, whether it is a moving company or a broker and registered with the FMCSA.
  3. Ask as many questions as possible before signing on the dotted line, requesting a thorough explanation for anything you do not understand.

Remember, it’s also always a good idea to get multiple quotes from moving companies to find the best price for your move. And keep in mind: things that sound too good to be true usually are.

Frequently asked questions

Can movers hold your stuff hostage?

No, movers aren’t allowed to hold your things hostage if you’ve paid 100% of the estimated costs outlined on your binding estimate or 110% of the estimated costs on your non-binding estimate. If you haven’t fully paid for your moving services, your company may be entitled to hold onto your belongings until you pay the balance.

How long can a moving company hold your stuff?

A moving company can hold your things for up to 21 days. Legally, that is the amount of time a mover has to deliver your things without owing you anything. However, a reputable mover may still offer compensation for delayed delivery if they must deliver outside of the promised time frame on your estimate.

Can a moving company keep my personal belongings?

Yes, a moving company can keep your personal belongings if you have not paid in full for the services on your contract. This is especially true if you store your belongings in your moving company’s warehouse for any length of time but have not paid the storage fees. However, if you have paid completely for all the moving services you requested, the moving company is not allowed to hold your things hostage.

What can I do if a moving company steals my stuff?

If you’re concerned about a packing or delivery crew stealing items, you can contact your moving company and file a complaint about the missing item to open an investigation. You can also call the police to file an official report. 

If you’re concerned your moving company is holding your entire shipment (all of your belongings), you’ll want to follow the steps below:

  • Review the federal law and make sure you’ve paid 100% of the costs for a binding estimate and 110% of the costs for a non-binding estimate. 
  • File a complaint with your mover.
  • Call the police.
  • Contact the FMCSA or local regulating authority.
  • Notify the Better Business Bureau.
  • Hire a lawyer and sue the moving company for breaching their contract, if possible.

Did we answer all your questions about moving scams? Let us know in the comments below!

Asha Kennedy
Written by
Asha Kennedy
Asha Kennedy is a researcher and content writer who brings almost 5 years of experience working directly with multiple carriers as a Move Coordinator, including Mayflower, United, and Allied International. During her career, she has successfully partnered with diverse clientele to coordinate Military, International, Interstate and Corporate relocations—and uses this experience to create meaningful and educational content for future movers! Asha graduated from Hampton University with honors in English. Asha enjoys being in nature, reading books, and learning new things.