Business

Beware of summertime home-moving scams

More homeowners move in the summer than at any other time of the year. Alas, that also means it’s peak season for moving-company scams.

DEAR MR. MYERS: We bought our house in the spring, and the sale closed earlier this month. When our furniture arrived at our new home, the movers said that they had underestimated their original bid and wouldn’t release our stuff unless we agree to pay $700 more. We thought it was a rip-off, but what could we do? The movers were essentially holding all of our stuff hostage!

ANSWER: Two-thirds of all relocations each year occur in the months of June, July and August. Not surprisingly, that’s also the time of year when the number of moving scams peaks.

You fell victim to one of the oldest moving-related schemes in the book. It is typically run by small “rogue” companies that often advertise on internet sites such as Craigslist, or through crudely printed signs fastened to utility poles.

You could file a lawsuit in small claims court in an effort to recover the $700, though your chances of collecting from such a fly-by-night moving company are relatively slim.

At the least, though, you should file a complaint with the agency that regulates movers within your state. Find the right agency by calling your state attorney’s office.

If your move crossed state lines, the state attorney likely will refer you to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. That’s the agency that regulates interstate movers and handles complaints against them. You can file the complaint online at FMCSA’s website, protectyourmove.gov, or by calling 888-368-7238.

Homeowners looking to hire a reputable moving company should start by asking family members, friends or their real estate agent for referrals. Pass on any mover who won’t make an onsite visit to the home but instead will only provide a quote over the telephone. Of course, also skip a mover that won’t put its bid in writing.

Be wary of a mover that demands to be paid in cash or insists on an unusually large deposit. Also avoid a company that simply answers the phone with a generic “movers” or “moving company” greeting rather than a formal name, or a company that doesn’t have a physical office or its own group of trucks.

Demand proof of insurance, and check with government authorities or the insurer itself to confirm that the policy is up to date.

Federal regulations say that movers who plan to relocate an owner from one state to another must automatically provide the customer with the excellent pamphlet “Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move,” and also the FMCSA-produced “Ready to Move” brochure several days before the actual moving day arrives.

Both of those publications and other useful information can be found at protectyourmove.gov.

REAL ESTATE TRIVIA: Nearly 70 percent of all 6,503 residents of St. Joseph, Minnesota, are female. That’s the highest percentage of any community in the nation, the Census Bureau reports.

DEAR MR. MYERS: Earlier this year, you wrote that the famous Playboy Mansion in Southern California was for sale for $200 million. Has it been sold yet?

ANSWER: Yes. Word recently leaked that 32-year-old business tycoon Daren Metropoulos has agreed to buy the 29-room, five-acre estate in the exclusive Los Angeles enclave of Holmby Hills for about $105 million.

The property also includes a tennis court, pool and the famous swim-in grotto that has been the location of countless photo shoots for the adult-oriented Playboy magazine. In addition, it is one of the few homes in Los Angeles County that has a private zoo license: In the summer, its parklike grounds are filled with caged monkeys and exotic birds that screech and squawk at the rare Albino peacocks and other animals that are free to roam about the grass.

Though Metropoulos can rejoice that he got the mansion for about half of its original $200 million listing price, part of the deal allows eccentric Playboy Enterprises founder Hugh Hefner to remain in the palatial property for the rest of his life.

DEAR MR. MYERS: I want to refinance my home, but I bounced a couple of checks last month after my employer ran into some financial problems and was unable to pay me in a timely manner. Will the bounced checks affect my credit score?

ANSWER: Probably not. Banks don’t usually report checking-account information to the nation’s three big credit bureaus, so those rubber checks that you wrote won’t appear on your credit report or hurt your overall score.

However, if you don’t “make good” on the checks by reimbursing the recipient — or the bank, if it covered the overdraft — the matter could be turned over to a collection agency. At that point, the issue likely would be reported to the bureaus and could send your score downward.

David W. Myers’ column is distributed by Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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