Life lessons, sigh. I had never moved across the country before. C.T. and I made the decision to lessen our work and stress by hiring professional movers, even though our money was beyond tight. In my Internet searches I got lists of moving companies and reviews, most of which I now realize are fake, written by employees of the movers. I wish I had searched on the keywords, “interstate moving scam,” before the move. That’s when I learned that what happened to us is a manipulation run by many moving companies and that they operate in the sweet spot of overcharging just enough that legal action isn’t worth it, and the governments don’t come after them because they play states and federal jurisdictions against each other. Sweet spot, indeed. The scam in summary: Your moving company gets you to sign a contract that estimates your weight but they somehow get a weight ticket showing that your household weighs much more than it does, and you must pay thousands more or they will not release your belongings to you. Our story, in general details: After inquiring by email with several companies, C.T. got a call from Colonial Van Lines. The expeditor on the phone said all the right things, that our household goods as described by C.T. probably weighed X amount, and that the company would move us for X dollars, just barely within our budget. Colonial present themselves as brokers, who then hire actual carriers to move your belongings. This was an indulgence for us, but we wanted our move to go well and we felt that having professionals load and drive our possessions was the way to have a smooth move! Soon other employees of Colonial started to call us with issues that would add costs to our bill. First, they decided our stuff weighed more. Then they called to say they couldn’t get the large truck on our street and we would have to pay extra for a shuttle truck. We rejected both these claims. Unfortunately, our contract said that we would not get our deposit back if we cancelled within, I believe, five days of the move and here we were, within five days. Interesting that they suddenly had these concerns then! Then we started getting similar calls from the middle men, the carrier Relo, who would actually move our goods. Our move was going to weigh more, plain and simple. We got scared that the move would cost money we didn’t have. We had to stay on budget. So we opened up boxes, gave away more things, threw things out. We consolidated small boxes into big boxes because, at one point, the callers stressed that it was the number of boxes, not the weight. Then we did something the movers probably didn’t expect: We actually bought a scale and weighed just about every single thing that we own. We stayed up until two in the morning the night before the movers came. We knew we were right at our target, give or take a couple hundred pounds. We knew what our belongings weighed. The Relo crew brought the shuttle truck at no cost to us. We were impressed to watch the crew of movers work. They were skilled, strong and seemed to be taking great care wrapping our furniture, at least while we were present. The crew chief seemed nice and showed us a ticket from a weigh station, showing what the truck weighed before our household was loaded. It seemed like things would work out fine. A day or two later, we got a call from that crew chief telling us that our belongings weighed three thousand pounds more than the contract. Having gone to great trouble to weigh our load, we contested this immediately. We asked for a reweigh, with us witnessing, but we were told the truck was already on the road. We had our own journey to manage, taking a dog and a cat from Maryland to California in a sedan, getting delayed by snow in the mountains. During our five day drive we tried to reach people at Relo and Colonial by phone but we got nowhere on the reweigh request. Once we arrive at our empty rental house in California, we began a period of endless days of phoning, arguing and pleading with people from Colonial and a third company called Atlantic Van Lines, who claimed to have been hired by Relo or Colonial somewhere enroute. This is where the good cop/bad cop play comes in. As far as I can tell, all three companies are the same company. Colonial, the brokers, played good cop, being on our side and trying to represent our interests in getting a reweigh. Atlantic, or Relo or whoever, they were the bad cop, threatening to keep our possessions, threatening to sue us, telling us what a bad company Colonial is and pressuring us hard for thousands more dollars. Just to clarify, the customer is always entitled to a reweigh, at any point on the journey. It’s against the law for a mover to deny you this. Finally the two sides pretended to no longer be working together. Atlantic said they didn’t need to honor any contract signed with Colonial. Colonial played the high road and assured us that Colonial would refund and overcharges themselves and that we should pay the overage. As a matter of fact, A Colonial vice president advised us to rent a different truck, pay the overage, load our things onto the new truck and go immediately to an independent weigh station. We did exactly that, incurring all the related additional charges. Our household belongings weighed exactly what we said they did. Our weigh station weight was in line with the total we got when we weighed each box and piece of furniture on a scale back in Maryland. Here the smoke and mirrors continued. Colonial had us send them all documentation, claiming that they were pursuing legal action against Atlantic on the behalf’s of us and several other clients. We were assured a refund. And the weeks and months rolled by. We had needed that money to live on once we landed here, while we looked for work. Life was hard financially without the money we’d been swindled of, and all of Colonial’s answers to our calls were vague. We are still being told our money will be refunded very soon. Why not just sue them, you’re asking now, right? Yeah. Colonial claims to be based in Florida, and our contract states that any legal action has to be brought against them there. After consulting with lawyers and government officials in California, Maryland and Florida, we found that we would indeed have to sue them there. We are actually willing, but the fees for filing small claims in Florida are higher than the other states, by several times. It’s an ongoing process, as is pursuing criminal action in Maryland. Long story long, the three companies are one group that does this regularly to folks completing interstate moves. Their Florida location and the good cop/bad cop routine protect them well. And who would sue when the cost of doing so roughly equals what they’re stealing? Aparently, these loopholes are the result of deregulation of the trucking industry. A few movers get caught. I did see one article about a moving company owner doing serious jail time. A person or persons in this organization has committed serious fraud with a regulated scale. But I have found that my state of origin and my state of arrival are slow to pick up this banner. Fortunately I have time on my hands to be a squeaky wheel. Lesson learned? Move yourself? Well, buyer beware, at least. Perhaps avoid so called brokers. Definitely drive to the weigh station and witness the before and after weighs of your truck. And read the Moving Rights and Responsibilities handbook carefully before signing a contract with anyone. It’s long, but it’s trying to tell you something. If your contract requires you to pursue legal action in a certain state, research the ease of that. Personally, now that I’ve picked up some moving techniques watching pro’s wrap and pack my furniture, I plan to rent a truck and hire friends in the future. I will travel with my truck. And I will pray for swift karma all around. That people can get away with this says very pathetic things about humanity and our culture.
Wren on July 30th, 2014