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Désirée Ávila, REALTOR®

Move with Caution: South Florida An Epicenter of Moving Scams

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South Florida’s peak moving season is from May 15th to September 15th. Despite
previous federal and state crackdowns, complaints about scams perpetrated by South
Florida-based moving brokers show no signs of abating, in fact there are more than ever making South Florida an epicenter of moving scams.

Moving brokers are not your typical moving company. They are companies that broker your move by outsourcing the actual moving job. 

The Scam

So you have been looking for a moving company but they are all booked. You then chance on a moving broker that has a lovely website. They display truck images and make fantastic claims about how they are going to help you move without a hitch.

A typical moving scam begins this way. As you dig further into the website the company expounds on their lofty promises such as “We will be with you from beginning to end!”. They share some reviews and clients appear to be very satisfied with their brokering services.

When you call them, the sales representative tells you that they’ve been in business for a long time and have expertise with brokering long-distance moves. They give you a price that is significantly lower than the estimates of well-known moving companies. The low price is compelling  so you book your move with them. 

To seal the deal they ask you to send a deposit, most likely in the $1,000 range. You conclude the call feeling all warm and fuzzy that you not only found a mover, but saved money too!

What you don’t know is that the minute you made that deposit they sank their first hook into you. 

After the hook has been inserted unpleasant surprises are in store. If the company has any employees at all, a moving truck may eventually show up at your house. But when the truck that turns up, is not driven by the company with the cool website and lofty promises that took the down payment. The movers may then demand hundreds, if not thousands, of additional dollars for packing materials, unanticipated items, or extra weight. 

You relent, they pack up your stuff, and off they go. Another hook as been inserted, and your moving nightmare is just beginning. How it will play out all depends on how the scam is run. 

In one scam, the hauler then vanishes for weeks with the contents of your entire life, leaving you angry and fearful in your empty new home, wondering if you’ll ever see your belongings again. When and if they return, the men on the truck frequently demand even more money.

If they show up with your stuff they tell you that you owe them money. When you insist that that was not the agreement, they tell you “Either you pay, or you will not get your stuff”. This is the most common type of scam, the hostage load. It’s extremely illegal, but companies often get away with it. Why?

Department of Transportation

The Department of Transportation (DOT) is the agency regulating the transportation industry. It has a small staff; however, more than 7000 moving companies are registered in the country. When a company receives many complaints, and the DOT becomes aware of it, it is forced to close. Soon after, however it opens up again, just under the guise of another company. 

In fact, there is a black market where these moving companies can buy DOT numbers that cannot be traced back to them, allowing them to continue the scam. Some con artists have run five “moving companies” simultaneously, all of which compete with one another. 

Complaints Breaking New Ground

According to Joshua Swyers, managing attorney for Move Rescue, a nonprofit organization founded by the country’s largest moving companies to assist consumers in resolving disputes, consumers have been filing complaints about movers at an all-time high in 2021 (Moving scams are back in South Florida 2021). The number of requests for assistance that year easily surpassed 2019’s total of around 1,200, as it has every other year since its inception in 2003.

South Florida is home to the majority of the state’s moving brokers and consequently an epicenter of complaints for moving scams. There are 190 registered moving brokers in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in Palm Beach, Broward, or Miami-Dade counties, out of 238 in Florida (Moving scams are back in South Florida 2021).

According to FMCSA data, in 2021, consumers filed complaints against 111 South Florida-based moving brokers, with 58 of them receiving ten or more complaints (Moving scams are back in South Florida 2021). Over 1,100 complaints about movers were submitted to the Florida Attorney General’s Office this year, surpassing 2020 by19%  and 2019 by 33.6%.

The State and the Federal Government Are Targeting Numerous South Florida Moving Companies

Federal and state authorities are starting to scrutinize the industry more closely and taking action when necessary.

Florida’s Attorney General sued 14 defendants from Miami-Dade and Broward counties in U.S. District Court in Miami, accusing them of operating moving scams under dozens of ever changing business names (Hurtibise, 2019). Over 200 consumer complaints were filed against the defendants collectively.

According to the Department of Transportation, Office of the Inspector General, one of the defendants, Yehoshua Vaknin, the named the owner of Moving & Storage SF Inc., U.S. Moving Services Inc., and Moving Systems Inc. was fined over $1 million dollars for his unscrupulous moving scams (Office of the Inspector General at the Department of Transportation, South Florida Moving Company and Its Owner Fined $1.05 Million for Deceptive Practices 2020).

Avoiding Moving Scams

Before hiring any moving company, conduct due diligence on the movers to avoid becoming a victim of a scam. Move Rescue provides tips for people that will be moving and we have provided a list for you below: 

  • Ask friends and family for recommendations of bonafide moving companies.
  • Investigate moving companies extensively with the Better Business Bureau to see if other customers have filed complaints against them.
  • Check the Better Business Bureau or Google for independent reviews independent from the moving company’s website.
  • Speak to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to ensure that the moving company is properly licensed.
  • Never sign incomplete or blank documents when provided by a moving company.
  • Obtain written quotes and estimates from many different moving companies, and ensure that the estimates are binding.
  • Ascertain whether the movers will handle the move independently or if the company will subcontract to another carrier.
  • Visit their facility to see if they have employees and are legitimate.
  • Be wary of movers arriving in rental trucks without uniformed personnel. These could be fly-by-night operations with insufficient insurance or licenses.
  • Do not give them a deposit until you have completed your due diligence and are sure that they are indeed a real company and will do the job for which you are going to pay them. 

Sources:

Broward, Palm Beaches & St. Lucie Realtors®. (2021, August 25). Moving scams are back in South Florida. Broward, Palm Beaches & St. Lucie Realtors®. Retrieved April 11, 2022, from https://rworld.com/blog/moving-scams-are-back-with-s-fla-a-hotbed-of-activity

Hurtibise, R. (2019, August 30). Moving companies with no trucks or movers can break your bank account, your stuff and your heart. here’s how to avoid them. South Florida Sun Sentinel. Retrieved April 11, 2022, from https://www.sun-sentinel.com/business/fl-bz-south-florida-based-moving-scammers-continue-reigns-of-terror-20190829-i6sbg3dlkrc6njzgcwpmd3tj74-story.html

Office of Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Transportation. (2020, April 15). South Florida Moving Company and Its Owner Fined $1.05 Million for Deceptive Practices. Investigations | Office of Inspector General | U.S. Department of Transportation. Retrieved April 11, 2022, from https://www.oig.dot.gov/library-item/38192

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