CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- People who plan to move should be cautious about hiring movers online, as several Internet companies that bill themselves as movers are just "bait-and-switch" companies, according to a recent report from a committee chaired by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.
Such scam operations will collect fees, then immediately transfer customers to real moving companies. The scam companies keep their fees and customers must then pay the full cost of moving to legitimate moving companies.
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, chaired by Rockefeller, conducted a year-long investigation into this scam, which has been growing during the past decade, according to the report, "Internet Moving Brokers: A New Consumer Protection Problem in the Household Goods Moving Industry."
The companies give families one rate to move their belongings, the report says, then charge them "a steep markup to complete the move -- effectively holding the person's goods hostage until they are paid."
Professional moving companies typically do not charge customers deposits, while "bait and switch" operations typically charge well over $1,000, according to the report.
"Thousands of consumers get stuck each year by abusive moving companies at one of the most vulnerable times in their lives," Rockefeller said. "We must put a stop to the practices these companies are using to swindle consumers."
The new report points out:
• Customers are not told they are hiring a broker, not a moving company. "They were surprised when an entirely different company arrived on the day of their move."
• Broker fees often amounted to thousands of dollars.
• Internet moving brokers never visit the homes of customers to look at their possessions and estimate actual moving costs.
• The actual movers often hold their customers' possessions hostage until they paid their unexpected fees.
The small group of "Internet moving brokers" generated a large number of consumer complaints, which sparked the Senate investigation.