What is the mover “holding the shipment hostage” mean?

Christopher Noblit

What Is “Holding the Shipment Hostage”?

“Holding a shipment hostage” refers to an illegal act by a moving company wherein, before delivery, the mover demands additional money and refuses to deliver the customer’s household goods shipment unless the additional money is paid.

Why Is Holding a Shipment Hostage Illegal?

The moving industry is highly regulated by the rules and regulations put in place by the Federal Department of Transportation to protect consumers who are moving their belongings from one state to another (which is termed “interstate moving”). Alternatively, “intrastate moving” (moving within the same state) is regulated by a local state’s department of transportation or the local state’s public utilities commission.

The purpose of this article is to address an interstate mover holding a shipment hostage during an interstate move.

The rules and regulations governing an interstate move are outlined in the "Your Rights and Responsibilities" booklet, which is distributed by the Federal Department of Transportation.

Becoming aware of the rules and regulations contained within this publication is crucial to educating and protecting yourself during your interstate move; I would advise downloading and reading it.

How Does “Holding the Shipment Hostage” Work?

Generally speaking, licensed professional interstate movers charge by weight, whereas scam interstate movers generally charge by the cubic foot. Although legitimate movers may charge by the cubic foot for interstate moves, I have yet to know of one. The scam works like this...

  1. You find the scam mover on the internet and visit the scam mover's website.
  2. You complete an online inventory on the scam mover's website listing all the articles you need to move.
  3. You agree to a price and will generally be required to pay a hefty deposit.
  4. The truck arrives on the move-out day, and your shipment is loaded on the truck, which leaves with your shipment on board.
  5. Afterwards, you will receive a phone call letting you know that your shipment took much more space than the scam mover initially advised you would need. The mover advises you that your shipment will not be delivered unless the new amount (which is generally much, much higher than you were initially told) is paid.
  6. You call the local police, but the police advise you that they only enforce local state law, and that what you are experiencing is a matter of “interstate commerce,” which is governed by the Federal government, and that you will have to contact the Federal government for help.
  7. Unfortunately, although many Federal rules and regulations govern the illicit enterprise you are experiencing, the governing Federal authorities are not equipped to provide immediate help.
  8. Most likely, the best you'll be able to do is to file a complaint with the Federal Department of Transportation.

What Can You Do About It

If you find yourself in this situation, you will probably decide to pay the additional money demanded. However, your best option is to simply not put yourself in such a position by doing the following...

  1. Don’t let the lowest price determine who you choose to move you because a low price is how scam movers entrap their victims.
  2. Vet your movers thoroughly. Check all mover's ratings using the Better Business Bureau, Google Map Reviews, and Yelp.
  3. Do not pay a deposit. Deposits are a ploy to bind you to a mover’s service. Professional movers do not require a deposit to put you on their schedule.
  4. Educate yourself by reading Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move, published by the Federal Department of Transportation.
  5. Read our article, "How to get an accurate moving cost estimate," before inviting movers to estimate your moving cost.
  6. Generally, it is probably best to avoid booking your move with a "moving broker."
  7. Never, never, ever book your move with a moving company that is unwilling or unable to visit your home and inspect the articles you intend to move.

Moving has often been described as one of the three most stressful times in one's lifetime, and there are few experiences more stressful than having everything you own and cherish held hostage by a crook. To protect yourself, you need to do some work to educate yourself on how professional movers operate.

We hope this article helps you accomplish this and, as a result, your moving experience is as stress-free as possible.


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