In 2012, the Better Business Bureau reported receiving more than 8,500 complaints about movers, making it the 16th-highest complaint category.
Consumer Reports Money Adviser offers these ways to protect yourself:
• Get recommendations. Try not to rely on advertising alone for the names of movers. Instead, get recommendations from friends, family or reliable real estate agents. Plan to obtain estimates from at least three companies.
• Verify licensing. Interstate movers are licensed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which offers information on how to screen them at protectyourmove.gov. The site also has a list of state regulators who oversee in-state movers.
• Check for complaints. Along with licensing information, the federal website and some state sites list complaints against movers. Also check the BBB, and search online with the company's name to find reviews and complaints.
• Know your rights. The federal government and some states require movers to provide booklets explaining your rights. Although the federal "Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move" doesn't apply to in-state movers, it's a must-read for all. Find the title under "Are You Moving?" at protectyourmove.gov. Also check the consumer information on the American Moving & Storage Association's website (moving.org).
Here are some details you need to know when hiring a mover:
• The cost. Generally, you can't be charged more than the mover's regulated rates and charges, which you have a right to see. Moves are usually billed by the weight of your possessions (using a formula based on the volume) or by the amount of time the move takes. That's why you'll generally receive a nonbinding estimate of the total cost, with the final price to be determined after the move. A fixed-price "binding estimate" may be available, but expect it to cost more. A mover is usually allowed to charge you a certain amount above the estimate -- often 10 percent, but sometimes more -- upon delivery and can bill you for the rest, usually due in 30 days.
• Payment method. Some movers accept credit cards, money orders or cashier's checks, or they may offer credit themselves. Find out first, and avoid paying in cash.
• Inventory. Make an accurate inventory of your possessions. It's a good idea to photograph or video at least the valuable items to document their condition. Don't pack jewelry and other small valuables, medication and important papers.
• Insurance. Movers usually provide minimal insurance but offer higher-level "replacement" coverage for an additional charge. Consumer Reports Money Adviser recommends checking your homeowner's policy, which may cover lost or damaged items.
• Contract. Read the order for service and "bill of lading," which is your actual contract, before signing.
• Complaints. If there's a problem after the move -- you notice items are damaged or missing -- contact the mover immediately. The mover should have given you a copy of its procedures for handling complaints and inquiries. If you think you've been defrauded or that the mover violated the law, contact your state attorney general or consumer protection agency. Last, complain to the BBB.
If you think the mover is illegally holding your possessions and trying to rip you off, contact the police. If the mover is a member of the American Moving & Storage Association, call the group's toll-free number at 1-888-849-2672.yourbiz
Consumer Reports (www.consumerreports.org).