ST. PETERS, Mo. – “I paid these people to steal from me. I literally paid them to come to my home and take my belongings away. I really feel violated,” said St.Peters resident Kathie Stephens.
Stephens is talking about Baltimore, Maryland-based Unified Van Lines. She hired the company to move her family from St.Peters to North Carolina. Four months later, her things still haven’t arrived on the east coast.
Empty walls. Empty halls. And the emptiness that comes with knowing your treasured belongings might be gone forever.
“It’s the memories. The pictures. The quilts. The first baby pictures. The sonogram pictures. Those are the things you can’t get back,” Stephens said.
Kathie said it’s been impossible to get answers from Unified Van Lines. When she did make contact, she said they told her their truck was out of commission and they wanted more money out of her.
“These people have no heart,” Stephens said.
Contact 2 found Unified Van Lines has a history of consumer complaints. It has an “F” rating with the Better Business Bureau and in April of this year, the Department of Transportation revoked the company's license.
“I looked them up on the computer. It said they were the number one moving company in 2017. But you know what? I’ve since found out anybody can put anything on the computer. You have to go even further than that,” Stephens said.
Kathie wound up doing that and thankfully it wasn’t too little too late.
“Serendipity is a word I would use in this instance. A lot of things happened the right way once they went wrong for Kathie,” said Heather Paraino, a representative for MoveRescue.
Move Rescue is a consumer assistance service for people who have fallen victim to disreputable moving companies. She said law enforcement informed MoveRescue that Kathie’s shipment was one of a dozen or so seized in a warehouse in Springfield, Missouri.
“They’d let us know they’d been investigating a bad actor and the shipments were there. They needed our assistance in getting those shipments out,” Paraino said.
Turns out Kathie was already in contact with someone connecting her to MoveRescue. Her belongings were located and they should finally arrive in North Carolina over the weekend.
“We’re working with those companies to make sure they have free and easy access and that there won’t be any more delays or problems for Kathie,” Paraino said.
“I don’t want anybody else to be hurt like this," Stephens said.
Customers who entered into a contract with this company are encouraged to file a complaint with the FMCSA online.
The BBB offers the following tips on preparing for a move, finding a trustworthy moving company, and avoiding scams:
- Do your research. Look up Business Profiles for moving companies on bbb.org. The American Moving and Storage Association (AMSA) and Canadian Association of Movers (CAM) also identify movers that have pledged to uphold high standards of trust and to resolve complaints quickly. Many movers that are BBB Accredited Businesses are also AMSA ProMovers or CAM Members. Note the length of time a company has been in business and read reviews from previous customers.
- Verify the mover's claims, credentials and professional memberships. Scammers and fly-by-night operators won't be able to substantiate a good reputation.
- Get at least three estimates. Written, in-home estimates help you make an informed decision. Show the mover everything that needs to be moved (don’t forget sheds and garages). Be wary of unusually high or low estimates. If someone says they can give you an estimate over the phone or by email, it’s possible they’re trying to scam you.
- Get all agreements in writing. Read everything carefully and make sure you have it all in writing. Get copies of everything you sign, especially the most important document, the bill of lading, which is the receipt for your goods and the contract for their transportation. Ask for written documentation of any special terms and conditions, complete costs, payment timelines and warranty information. If it's not written down, it doesn't exist. Never sign any blank forms.
- Know your rights. Interstate movers are required by law to provide you with certain information that explains the moving process, as well as your rights and responsibilities during and after the move. Ask for proof of licenses, insurance, etc.
- Protect your possessions. Make sure that your mover provides full-value protection insurance for any lost or damaged possessions. Note that insurance is by the pound, so expensive items such as a flat-panel television may need additional replacement cost coverage in case they are damaged in transit. Find out what your household insurance will and won't cover during a move.
- Take your valuables with you. Cash, coins, jewelry, photographs and important papers should be taken with you or shipped separately using a shipping service with tracking numbers and insurance.
Some "red flags" to watch for when hiring movers include:
- Movers who demand cash or a large deposit before the move.
- Company websites that have no address and no information about a mover's registration or insurance.
- Movers who claim all items are covered by their insurance.