By Jeff Walker
Several years ago, one of our former volunteers went through the typical bait-and-switch moving scam. Her items were loaded on the truck, she was told the cost would be several times higher than the initial quote, and her items were held until she paid. In the process of trying to get her items back and hold the company liable for its actions, she came up with a “punch list” of things to do when you find yourself in the same situation with your moving company. While in the process of a scam, it’s easy to “go crazy” and contact everyone at once. Depending on your circumstances, it may be best to try one agency at a time rather than contacting everyone all at once. However, there are also times when multiple agencies, working together can best solve your problem. For the best advice on your approach, try posting to our Message Boards and see what the volunteers recommend.
Posting your experience on MovingScam.com has several benefits. First, the volunteers see this type of situation again and again, and can have good advice as to how to proceed with your case. Second, your story gets your information out there for other consumers to see, and know who to avoid, thereby saving other people the grief which you are now going through. Most people wouldn’t wish this type of experience on their worst enemy, so making sure others know who to avoid is in part, the power of the community. Posts regarding fraudulent movers should be made in the “Report a Scam” forum, as well as the Review Verification System, so that others know to steer clear of your mover. Keep in mind that if you have not yet received your belongings, you may want to refrain from using your name, or the name of the company until you have your items in your possession.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
The FMCSA is the government agency that enforces the regulations within the household goods industry. While they have a very limited resources to follow up on many complaints each year, it is still good to get your complaint registered, as increasing numbers of complaints against a company may garner attention from the FMCSA to act on a specific carrier. You can file your complaint at the FMCSA’s consumer website.
The Better Business Bureau
The complaints section of the Better Business Bureau can be an effective tool in bringing the company to the table. The BBB may actually try to arbitrate the case between you and the company you used. Whatever the outcome, at the end of the day, you have lodged your complaint for others to see, and much like posting on MovingScam.com, others will be able to see your complaint, and depending on the state, how (and if) it was resolved. To file a complaint, you will need to find your mover on the BBB website, and find “File a Complaint Against *company name*” on the right hand side under the “Quick Links” menu.
States Attorney General
In order to do this, you will want to file with the States Attorney in both the state you left, and the state you currently reside. If you used a broker, you will want to file a complaint against both the broker, and the company that moved your items. You can find a list of States Attorney General Offices at the bottom of our Links page.
Local media can do what no other organization can, which is to cast a spotlight on a fraudulent moving company. The last thing a pack of con-artists want is a lot of attention. Getting the press involved can potentially put enough attention on the fraudulent mover that rather than garnering more attention by holding out for that inflated fee, they will relent and deliver your items.
MoveRescue is an organization created by Unigroup, which includes both United and Mayflower Carriers. Its primary mission is to assist consumers in dealing with fraudulent movers who are holding their goods hostage. While this initially sounds really good, keep your expectations reasonable, as there have been little to no statistics showing how successful this organization has been. Depending on your case, Move Rescue attorneys may start by sending the fraudulent mover threatening mail, and may move on to referring you to an attorney, for which you must pay. On the other hand, if the fraudulent mover has agree to release your belongings, Move Rescue may use one of the United or Mayflower fleet to pick up your items and delivery them to you. The Move Rescue website says that “MoveRescue may, at its discretion, fund all or a portion of the subsequent delivery.” So there may, or may not be a cost passed on to you, depending on your circumstances. Regardless, if your items are being held hostage, this is worth a try.
Depending on the state in which you live, the household goods industry may have a statewide trade organization, or State Association. Reputable moving companies and their trade organizations have a valid interest in cracking down on “bad apples” because fraudulent moving companies make the entire industry look bad and drive business away from legitimate professional full-service movers. In Illinois, for example, the Illinois Movers’ and Warehousemen’s Association often works with the Illinois Commerce Commission Police in their investigations of unlicensed bandits and to assist consumers in retrieving their belongings. Ideally, you would want to contact your state association prior to your move to find out who the reputable movers in your area are, but they may also be able to assist you if you are in the middle of a fraudulent move within your state. You can find out if your state has an association on our Links page.
Public Utilities Commission
In some states, the intra-state (in-state) moving industry is regulated by the Public Utilities Commission for that state, California being the best example. In this case, contacting the PUC can result in launching an investigation into your case which can result in getting local authorities involved, where needed. You can find out if your state’s PUC is involved in the state moving industry by contacting the Attorney general for that state, or simply ask one of the volunteers on the Message Boards.
In addition, some states’ Department of Weights and Measures have proven to be helpful in cases where the mover claims a larger load necessitated the higher bill. Catching the weight fraud is a big step in catching the mover. Arizona in particular has been great, as well as Pennsylvania also being mentioned in at least one article we’ve found. The customer can call and explain that they have reason to doubt that their shipment weighs as much as the mover says, and requests a DWM rep to view the reweigh at the scales.
There was a time when the local police couldn’t, or wouldn’t be able to help you during a moving scam. Strictly speaking, since your move involves a contract between you and your moving company (the Bill of Lading), it is a civil matter, not a criminal matter and as such, the police can’t get involved. However, if you find yourself in a hostage load situation, where the moving company is holding your goods for an inflated price, you can file a police report for stolen goods. While the police may still not get involved, filing a stolen goods report is required for insurance purposes and may help you if your case becomes a lawsuit.
More recently, we’ve seen some areas where police are willing to get involved. Illinois and Louisiana, for example have had newsworthy cases where the police were willing to step up while the scam was in progress, or setup a sting operation to crack down on well-known scammers. This still isn’t the norm, but it is a good start.
While contacting your state representatives may not help you during the course of your move, getting involved in letting them know about your problem can have an effect on how laws are created, revamped and most importantly, executed. While many people out there would say that there aren’t enough laws in place to keep the fraudulent movers out of operation, we would tell you that the laws are in place, we just need more enforcement. At last count, the FMCSA has roughly 100 enforcement officers in the field handling about 2,000+ cases of fraud per year per state in an office whose primary focus is SAFETY, not fraud. Getting your state representatives involved can help motivate them to help improve funding and staffing for the FMCSA, giving them the people they need to crack down on fraud. Every voice counts.
Keeping a cool head during a time of crisis can help you work your way out of trouble, and getting the right people involved can help you find your way out of scam move. Take your time and do it right and if you need any advice in helping you through your difficult time, make sure utilize our Message Boards and get some advice from the volunteers who’ve seen these situations time and time again.