CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - A man relocating his family from Cleveland to Alabama found himself ensnared in a moving scam in the fall of 2019.
Leonard Love reported to the BBB that he had gone online and typed in long-distance movers on Google.
“A generic box popped up,” he said. “I filled out information regarding the move and submitted it. Several movers contacted me by phone. [One company] gave me an initial quote of $2,616.25.”
Once most of his belongings were on the truck, the movers claimed he had more boxes than estimated and demanded $4,200 to do the move.
He agreed and the movers left with his property.
Later, they demanded an additional $3,000 as a “pickup fee” to deliver his goods from their warehouse in New Jersey to his new home.
After a nine-month fight, he is still trying to get his belongings back right now.
The BBB says the company Love used is now out of business after generating complaints from consumers who experienced delays in delivery, demands for substantial extra costs to deliver furniture, damaged goods, etc.
The company was never registered with the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
The BBB says, unfortunately, some consumers find their stress compounded by fraudulent rogue movers who charge them many times the amount quoted, subject them to unreasonably long delivery windows, hold their items hostage for additional undisclosed fees and leave them with damaged goods.
Sue McConnel says you should not just go with a company because it gave you the lowest estimate.
“Your best bet is to deal with a moving company that has some kind of a local presence that has an established track record,” she said.
An in-depth investigative study by the Better Business Bureau (BBB), Know Your Mover: BBB Study Reveals Scammers Price Gouge, Taking Belongings Hostage and Destroy Goods, released last week finds that scams are widespread in the moving industry, particularly when it comes to interstate moves.
The BBB says it receives an average of 13,000 complaints and negative reviews about movers each year, with many complaints describing how experiences with dishonest moving companies have turned into financial and emotional nightmares.
According to the study, a fraudulent moving company initially may be helpful on the phone and may have a well-designed website boasting of its many years of experience, well-trained workers, satisfied customers, and appropriate licensing. However, the red flags begin when the company claims to be unable to make an in-person inspection and estimate; while it may claim to be local, in reality, it is based out of state and paying for a local post office box address. An initial affordable quote soon balloons as the company claims -- often based on improper calculations -- that you have more belongings than originally estimated.
The rogue mover may demand additional fees before loading and unloading the truck, and it may not deliver your goods until days or even weeks after you move in. In fact, the company you originally paid may not even be the company conducting your move -- it may have hired local temporary workers who rented a truck, or it may have acted as a broker with another company.
FMCSA, a branch of the U.S. Department of Transportation, regulates interstate and international moves. Of the 4,780 complaints FMCSA received in 2019, 57% involved overcharging. It is believed that fewer than 10% of victims report fraud to BBB or enforcement agencies, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), so the actual size and severity of this problem is likely much larger and more severe than statistics reflect.
Enforcement action against moving scams can be difficult since FMCSA does not have law enforcement power. It is, however, able to send demand letters to bad actors, levy fines and revoke operating authority, and it partners with some state agencies to take legal action.
Many moving scams involve Israeli nationals operating from Florida, where the state attorney general has been active in bringing lawsuits against such enterprises.
When hiring a moving service, BBB advises:
· Do your research. Look up moving companies on bbb.org/cleveland. Note the length of time a company has been in business and read reviews from previous customers.
· Get at least three estimates. Written, in-home estimates help you make an informed decision. Show the mover everything that needs to be moved (don’t forget sheds and garages). Be wary of unusually high or low estimates. If someone says they can give you an estimate over the phone or by email, it’s possible they’re trying to scam you.
· Get all agreements in writing. Read everything carefully and make sure you have it all in writing. Get copies of everything you sign, especially the most important document, the bill of lading, which is the receipt for your goods and the contract for their transportation. Never sign any blank forms.
· Know your rights. Interstate movers are required by law to provide you with certain information that explains the moving process, as well as your rights and responsibilities during and after the move. Ask for proof of licenses, insurance, etc.
· Protect your possessions. Make sure that your mover provides full-value protection insurance for any lost or damaged possessions. Note that insurance is by the pound, so expensive items such as a flat-panel television may need additional replacement cost coverage in case they are damaged in transit.
· Be wary of unusual requests. If a mover asks for a large down payment or full payment in advance, that may be a warning sign. And if a company says it won’t return your items to you without more money than you agreed to pay, contact BBB or local law enforcement for help.
· Take your valuables with you. Cash, coins, jewelry, photographs, and important papers should be taken with you or shipped separately using a shipping service with tracking numbers and insurance.
The BBB is one of our partners with the Cuyahoga County Scam Squad.
You can file a report with them, or contact the Scam Squad directly at 216-443-7035.