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What To Do About Lost Items During a Move

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Trusting a moving company with the transport of your possessions can be a nerve-wracking experience. Everything you own is going to be loaded onto a truck and driven out of sight. In the mean time, all you can do is hope and pray the movers you hired are trustworthy, responsible and professional enough to keep track of all of your belongings and deliver every last item safely at your new home.

Unfortunately, everything doesn't always work out that way. Dishonest workers might pocket your belongings, or unprofessional and disorganized movers may misplace your boxes. Depending on the item, its sentimental significance to you or its monetary value, this can result in a devastating and stressful experience. Whether you have recently moved and the movers lost some of your items, or you are simply looking for information on how to prevent lost items during a move, this guide will tell you all that you need to know.

Why it happens

There are several different circumstances that could result in your possessions never making it your new home. They are:
  • Lost belongings. Moving is a fast-paced industry. Often, moving companies will try to handle multiple moves at once, so your belongings may be sharing truck space with items from someone else's move. This can lead to confusion and the misplacement of possessions--perhaps your lost boxes were mistakenly delivered to another customer's home. Movers may also leave belongings behind at your old home, overlook items hidden behind boxes from another move, or lose boxes while transferring your shipment from one truck to another.
  • Theft. Loss of your possessions could also be a result of theft. Moving companies don't always perform background checks on employees. Some less reputable movers actually hire day-laborers to work during busy seasons, which means these workers are not even trained moving professionals, let alone screened before they are hired. With untrustworthy, temporary employees moving your belongings, it is not unlikely that they pocket your valuable collectibles or precious jewelry. Since they are not permanently employed by the company and may not even work for them another day after your move, they have very little chance of getting caught and not much to lose if they are.
  • Unguarded belongings. Movers may leave your goods unsupervised in your driveway or in front of your home. This makes it easy for untrustworthy neighbors or passersby to help themselves to your things. Furniture or boxes sitting at the curb may be mistaken for trash. Leaving the moving truck open and unwatched can also lead to stolen goods.

What to do

If anything should become lost during your move, there are several steps you should take to recover them:
  • Search your boxes. Before calling the moving company with accusations of lost or stolen belongings, thoroughly search all of your boxes. Even if you have a meticulous inventory of all of your boxes and their contents, occasionally boxes get mislabeled or items get packed in the wrong container. Perhaps the box was placed in the wrong room of your home. Once you have opened each box and carefully reviewed its contents, go back to your old home (if plausible) and make sure it wasn't left behind. If you're a renter, call your previous landlord and ask them to check your apartment and possibly the grounds for anything that might have been forgotten. Once you are sure the box or item is actually missing, you can proceed with informing the moving company.
  • Tracking. Movers can sometimes track the whereabouts of your lost items and return them to you. If your misplaced boxes were accidentally delivered to another customer's home, it may not be very difficult to locate them.
  • File a claim. If your belongings cannot be placed, you will want to seek reimbursement for them. You can do this by filing a claim with the moving company. Before hiring any movers, it's a good idea to inquire about their claims process in case of unfortunate situations like this. By law, you must file a formally written claim to be awarded compensation. Most companies will have a claim form to fill out on their website.

    Your claim should be filed within nine months of the date your shipment was delivered. The movers are then required by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to acknowledge your claim within 30 days, and to either to deny your claim or make an offer within 120 days. If you are not appeased by their settlement, you can proceed with other methods.

  • File a complaint. There are a variety of organizations where you can file a complaint against your movers and gain assistance resolving your claim. While these agencies cannot legally intervene on your behalf, they can communicate with the movers and help to bring about a solution. Additionally, movers want to keep their reputations positive. Filing complaints with these agencies will put a little pressure on them to appease you, since they don't want the negative feedback on their record.

Some organizations you can file complaints with are:

  • FMCSA-- Your complaint will be used for statistical purposes and included on the company's public record. You may be contacted by the agency if they decide to take action against the company. The FMCSA is only responsible for regulating companies that operate across state lines--for intrastate moves, contact your local regulatory agency such as the public utility commission, consumer protection office, or the office of the Attorney General.
  • Better Business Bureau-- You can file a complaint with the BBB by visiting their website and submitting an online claim form or going to the office nearest you. The organization will contact the moving company with your claim within two days, and the movers will be expected to respond within 14 days. If no response is received, a second request is sent. The BBB will keep you updated on the status of the correspondence, or lack thereof. However, they cannot obligate the movers to comply with any claim on your behalf, but can only act as a third-party mediator to help bring about a resolution.
  • American Moving and Storage Association-- You can also file a complaint with AMSA. You can submit a complaint on their website, and from there, they will contact the company on your behalf and attempt to bring the matter to a conclusion. However, AMSA has no legal authority and cannot mandate the moving company to comply with your requests.

You may also be eligible for AMSA's Arbitration Program.

  • Arbitration: If you are still not able to resolve the matter of your lost belongings, you may want to utilize the AMSA's Arbitration Program. The National Arbitration Forum administers the program, a neutral, non-governmental organization not affiliated with the AMSA or any moving companies. Unfortunately, requests for arbitration are not free--administrative fees of about $225 will apply to you and your movers, unless the movers offer to pay a portion or the entirety of your fees. Unless your lost items are of extraordinary value, arbitration may not be worth the costs.

    While arbitration is voluntary for you, it may be mandatory for your mover. Your moving company is required to accept your request for arbitration concerning disputes of less than $10,000. For disputes exceeding that amount it is not mandatory for movers to comply.

    The decision made by the forum is legally binding on both you and your movers and can be enforced in court. For more information, visit the AMSA website.

How to prevent lost items.

While there is no way to be certain your items won't become lost or stolen during a move, there are certainly ways to prevent it from happening, and measures to take to ensure the process for compensation goes smoothly if it does.

  • Don't sign for your items before verifying their delivery. Check carefully for the presence of all of your belongings before signing the inventory sheet confirming that everything has arrived at your destination. Don't allow the delivery driver to rush you through this process--if you sign the sheet claiming that everything has been delivered and nothing is missing, it will make the claim-filing procedure very difficult for you when you realize later that your box of treasured sports memorabilia has been misplaced.
  • Move valuables yourself. If you have anything of extraordinary value that cannot be easily replaced, consider moving it yourself. Fine china, expensive jewelry, collectibles, and anything of considerable worth should be transported in your own vehicle to ensure it is not lost or stolen.
  • Get insurance. This is perhaps the most imperative preventative step to take when moving anything of considerable value. The standard compensation offered by movers for lost or damaged goods is known as Released Value Protection, and it covers a mere 60 cents per pound per article. For an additional charge, movers offer Full Value Protection, which will hold them liable to compensate you for the full value or replace the item with something similar and of equal value. You can also purchase insurance from a third-party carrier, and then file the claim with that insurance company if an item becomes lost.
  • Research movers. Another important preemptive measure is to thoroughly research any moving company before hiring them. Check their record on the BBB website, verify their US DOT number (what's this?) on the FMCSA website, read customer reviews, and ask for references to ensure that you are hiring quality, professional and trustworthy movers.

Photo by: Nenetus (Freedigitalphotos.net)

  Posted by Nicole La Capria on March 26, 2013

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