DennisBeaverNovember 9, 2018 • By Dennis Beaver

If you are moving across town or to another state, today’s story will help to prevent becoming the victim of “Mover Fraud.”

Never heard of “Mover Fraud?” Neither had readers Megan and Zack who spent one recent Friday, “In what seemed like an episode of Rod Sterling’s Twilight Zone – we were plain scared.”

Days earlier, I learned about Mover Fraud from Senton, Missouri-based Bridgid Shields who is an attorney with UniGroup, the parent company of United Van Lines and Mayflower Transit.

Low estimates and then demand thousands of dollars more

“Of the approximately 1.6 million Americans who annually hire interstate household movers each year, there are over 3,000 cases of mover fraud,” she states. “Many of these cases involve criminals who advertise on-line, offer low-ball estimates, then, after the move, demand thousands of dollars in additional payment or your possessions are held hostage.”

These sobering figures from–MoveRescue–the first industry-endorsed consumer assistance service aimed at stopping unscrupulous interstate movers–should get your scam antenna turned on high.

Megan explained how they were taken:

“My know-it-all, cheapskate husband, over my objection, found a mover online who quoted less than half of what the big names in moving told us. Where the other companies came to our home, gave us a written estimate and the required informational packet, ‘Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move,’ these creeps did not.

“They didn’t visit our home before quoting a price which my husband agreed to! Their contract was gobbledygook!”

“This was pure bait and switch, and after leaving Las Vegas and arriving here, in Los Angeles, they now refuse to unload the truck unless we pay them twice their contract price in cash. What can we do?”

Internet makes it easy for consumers to become victims

“Moving fraud was once easy to identify and avoid, but the growth of the internet and our increasing confidence in buying online has opened the door for consumers to become victims. The internet has eliminated cost of entry into the moving market, while increasing the presence and use of moving brokers–middlemen–which allows bad actors to lure customers well beyond their local areas,” Shields points out, describing the typical scenario:

“A customer needs to make an interstate move, does an online search, picks a company but fails to verify if they have (1) authority from the U.S. Department of Transportation, and (2) a physical address. Customers want a good deal but have not spent time educating themselves on what can go wrong if they select a criminal moving company as they have no idea such scams are out there.

“The clue that you are dealing with a criminal moving company is a number significantly lower than what other movers state. This is why obtaining at least three quotes is so important so that you know what the market prices are for your move. As most of us rarely move, this is one area of daily life where extra time in becoming informed is so important,” she underscores.

Industry Response – Move Rescue

For anyone looking at a move, You and the Law recommends spending time on Move Rescue’s website. If ever there was an example of American industry reaching out to educate, protect, and help the moving public, this is it. The case stories are touching, and you just walk away with respect for the corporations who use their own money to tackle these nationwide problems, especially the hostage situation.

If your possessions are held hostage, what can you do?

You are probably thinking, “Why not call the police?” The real question, however, boils down to, “Will law enforcement act, and if they do, will it be quickly enough before your possessions are driven away?”

Shields points out that unless you can show a violation of state or local law, “Law enforcement will likely tell you it is a civil matter and there is nothing they can do.”

From experiences our readers have shared with us, calling the police is still a good idea, but taking the law into your own hands–known as self-help–is quite another matter. Still, if done legally, it might work, but we stress, you cannot get violent.

And our readers?

They had moved to a Los Angeles suburb close to where a friend of this column–former Sheriff’s Deputy and now a private investigator–resides. Having dealt with mover fraud before, he knew what to do, and with three very large friends in separate vehicles, drove to the address and parked their cars in such a way as to prevent the “moving truck” (a rented U-Haul) from driving off.

The cons quickly made the right decision, unloaded their truck–carefully–and were paid the original contract price.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.