Hank Investigates: Moving Violations
The family pictures… her winter clothes… the silverware, china, dining room furniture... all boxed taped packed and loaded and shipped for the move from California to Brookline.
But then the movers tripled the price and that was the last time Terra saw her possessions.
Terra Young, Victim
"I don't even have picture of my husband, I don't have a picture of my mother I don't have a picture of my children when they were small."
Our investigation found Terra's trapped in a system out of control, rogue moving companies holding goods hostage in trucks and storage warehouses, demanding victims pay inflated prices simply to get their possessions back.
Hank Phillippi Ryan, Investigative Reporter
"So they’re what they're doing is absolutely illegal?"
Joe Harrison, American Moving and Storage Association
"Yes, it is."
Hank Phillippi Ryan
"But it happens every day."
"Yes, it does."
And what’s more experts know the government agency that's supposed to enforce the law can't do it. Industry insiders warn rogue movers are ready to box you in.
"It just seems unconscionable to me to be in that kind of business of ripping off folks and their possessions."
Pam Beaton was promised it would cost $900 to move her stuff from Las Vegas to Weston but when the movers, shown in her home video, arrived they told her she owed $1,350 -- five hundred dollars more.
"I was so angry, I was so, so angry."
Everything she owned was at stake.
Hank Phillippi Ryan
"Did you have any choice but to pay it?"
"No, I had no choice I had to pay."
And thousands of complaints we found prove many movers lure customers with low estimates load up their goods and then demand higher prices on delivery day. What movers know and victims soon learn, no one's going to stop those moving violations.
"It’s devastating, it’s devastating."
Look at Terra’s phone bills, she spent hundreds calling the U.S. Department of Transportation for help --she got nowhere.
Hank Phillippi Ryan
"Do you feel that there are people, who are supposed to be helping you and protecting you, doing that?
"Oh, my heavens, no, absolutely not."
In Washington the DOT insists it's doing all it can.
Stephen Barber, U.S. Dept of Transportation
"You have these unscrupulous characters and every which way they can find to defraud the public they can do that."
But this report to congress from just last year slams the DOT's "lack of action", even charging it has "allowed unscrupulous carriers to flourish." The DOT says to do more is impossible, they have just four investigators for the entire country.
"We don't have the resources to go after every single carrier and every complaint we receive."
Look at the Johnston's family room this is supposed to be full of furniture! But when the moving company upped the delivery price of their belongings by 30 percent -- the family refused to pay what they call ransom to get them back. We found the Johnston's stuff locked here in this Holliston warehouse.
"Extortion, pure and simple, extortion."
And we found when ransom becomes the cost of doing business, those like the Johnstons, who refuse to pay, or like Terra, who can't afford to pay, are left with empty promises and empty homes.
"I have to believe that this is going to end and that everything is going to be returned."
The feds do issue fines against companies, but only after they've ripped off hundreds of people. Even then we found the victims don't get that money, it goes straight into the government's pocket.
For information on finding a mover, your rights and how to file a complaint about an interstate mover (a mover which moves you from one state to another), please go to these links:
For consumer and complaint information about intrastate movers (a move within MA) contact:
- Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications & Energy (regulates in state movers)
- Massachusetts Mover's Association