FMCSA to Streamline Household Goods Moving Regulations

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has announced plans to update regulations for transportation of household goods to reduce costs for movers and mitigate the growing problem of fraud in consumer moves.

If finalized, the proposed rule would incorporate some of the recommendations by a Department of Transportation Household Goods Consumer Protection Working Group that in 2017 offered solutions to better educate customers, and simplify and reduce paperwork for the more than 5,000 interstate household goods motor carriers and brokers.

“These recommendations, when implemented, would offer streamlined documentation requirements and provide opportunity for increased efficiency for the transportation of household goods for individual shippers by interstate household goods motor carriers and household goods brokers, improve consumer education and protection for individual shippers in need of their services, and combat fraud,” FMCSA said in a Federal Register announcement on Aug. 10.

Added Katie McMichael, director of American Trucking Associations’ Moving & Storage Conference, “We’re thrilled that they’ve announced this proposed rule. The reason we like these recommendations is that not only do they help combat the rogue operator problem, but they streamline moving companies’ operations.”

FMCSA said it will accept public comments on the proposal through Oct. 12.

“Personally I’m very pleased to see [the FMCSA rule] moving, but I’m still evaluating it,” said Heather Paraino, senior corporate counsel at UniGroup Cos., a family of professional movers that also operates MoveRescue, a website that aims to educate, advocate for consumers, and assist them with complaints against any moving company or broker.

Paraino also led the DOT working group.

“Since MoveRescue was created in 2003, we’ve taken tens of thousands of calls and helped as many consumer complaints,” Paraino told Transport Topics. “We get a variety of complaints, anywhere from delays and claims for loss or damage, or other disputes related to charges. But the complaints we take the most seriously are those related to what’s known as holding the shipment hostage.”

That’s when a mover is holding a shipment asking for more money than was agreed upon, she said.

“It’s kind of a big deal to move all of your goods across state lines or across the country. So we want to make sure that consumers are protected,” Paraino told TT.

The regulation would close some of the loopholes that fraudulent motor carriers use to scam unknowing consumers, McMichael said.

Some of the proposed regulatory updates:

– A plan to update the definition of physical surveys to include virtual surveys as an option for motor carriers and individual shippers to use live video for goods surveys, rather than requiring motor carriers to survey the household goods to be moved in person.
– A related recommendation to require motor carriers to conduct virtual surveys beyond a 50-mile radius.
– A requirement that a mover provide a customer with a Rights and Responsibilities booklet before a contract is signed.
– A proposal to replace the requirement for a freight bill with an invoice to increase clarity for individual shippers regarding any outstanding balances that must be paid while reducing repetitive paperwork for motor carriers.
– A study by the Better Business Bureau last year said it receives an average of 13,000 complaints and negative reviews about movers each year.

FMCSA in 2019 received 4,274 complaints about movers.

“At least 1,335 moving companies have earned an ‘F’ rating from BBB due to unresolved or unanswered complaints, unusually large amounts of complaints, and other factors,” the BBB study said. “It is believed that fewer than 10% of victims report fraud to BBB or law enforcement, according to the Federal Trade Commission, so the problem is likely much larger and more severe than statistics reflect.”

McMichael said that under existing regulations so-called “rogue operators” are known to book shipments over the phone or internet, get their money upfront and then close down their website, creating a new company name and new website.

While the FMCSA proposal would help consumers deal with fraudulent movers, the update also would be good for motor carriers.

“For moving companies, it saves them a lot of money,” McMichael told TT. “You’re not spending money for your estimators going on travel and paying for hotels and gas. You can do a survey for anybody in the entire country from your home base.”

The problem of fraudulent moving has definitely been on the rise, McMichael said. “It’s very difficult to catch these criminal rings. The worst scam is when a mover picks up your belongings, heads out, and your load is never seen again.”

She added, “The moving company won’t contact you. They won’t answer their phone. A family’s entire life is gone, and they never get it back.”

Source: Transport Topics: https://www.ttnews.com/articles/fmcsa-streamline-household-goods-moving-regulations