By Tim Walker
Since our inception, MovingScam.com has encouraged consumers to write their local, state, and federal representatives about the problems facing the moving industry, and ask for them to not only support change, but initiate legislative changes that would support the consumer. We even provide links to contact information for your representatives on our links page. The question that often arises is “what should I tell my rep?”
The answer can change a little based on your situation, and who you’re writing, but most of the time our visitors know more about the moving industry than their representatives do, so it’s important to educate your reps as much as possible.
If you’re a victim of a moving company scam, tell them your story. Hopefully you kept notes on your conversations, and saved the paperwork from your move. If you’re simply a consumer who is worried about being taken for a ride, then there is still a lot of information that you can pass on to your representatives.
Let’s start with some quick facts, and then move onto some remedies that your representative can proactively take to help consumers from being taken advantage of.
Nearly 6,900 complaints were lodged with Better Business Bureaus against movers in 2001, up from 5,097 in 1999 and 2,970 in 1996. Federal officials logged an additional 4,000 in 2001. Consumer watchdogs say only 1 in 10 complaints actually gets lodged for the 1.5 million households moved each year. (Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer)
The laws regulating the moving industry are written in civil code (49CFR375) that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) was charged with enforcing in 1995 when congress disbanded the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC). As of this writing, there are nine investigators spread across the country tasked with investigating the thousands of complaints each year. At one time, the ICC had 50 investigators in it’s Philadelphia office alone.
One of the dirty secrets about the moving industry enforcement is what happens if a company is actually investigated, and found guilty of violating laws. The FMCSA has a chart that sets limits on the amount of fine that they are allowed to assess the company based on the crime that they committed, and the size of the company. No mater how serious the offense, there is no jail time involved, and the company is allowed to continue to operate as usual.
Once a fine is assessed to a company, the responsibility goes to the treasury department where there is no tracking of whether or not the fine is ever paid by the company. Most of the time, the moving company will ignore the fine and keep on taking advantage of consumers, but if they actually take responsibility and pay the fine, that money goes into the ‘general fund’ that the Department of Transportation (DOT) uses to pay for road improvements. The consumers who were taken advantage of never receive any restitution for their extorted money.
So, what can you ask your representatives to do? Here’s what MovingScam.com suggests:
Any financial penalties collected from the company should be used to reimburse the consumer for financial, and property damage and loss that was caused by the company.
This action alone would have an immediate effect that would benefit consumers, and we believe would face little resistance in the political arena.
Other remedies that MovingScam.com supports are changes to the Carmack Amendment (49 U.S.C. Section 14706 et seq). Currently Carmack prevents consumers from suing in civil court for fraud, extortion (hostage-freight), negligence, breach of insurance contract, breach of contract of carriage, conversion, intentional misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The Carmack Amendment preempts State Laws, so any state legislation is not applicable.
Because the Carmack Amendment affects so many aspects of the shipping industry (not just household goods carriers) any changes to the Carmack Amendment would face strong resistance. The American Moving and Storage Association (AMSA) supports Carmack as it is written, and other industry groups also lobby to oppose any changes. Ask most AMSA members how Carmack protects them however, and most of them are unable to tell you. That’s simply because no reputable moving company has a need for the protections that the Carmack Amendment provides.