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Movers who hold people’s stuff ‘hostage’ on notice
WASHINGTON – July 30, 2012 –
Help is on the way for people who think they’ve been scammed by moving companies, thanks to a new law signed by President Obama this month. Starting in October, the Transportation Department will have more authority to order moving companies that are illegally holding people’s property to return the goods.
The department’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) will also be able to use some of the $10,000-a-day fines to reimburse victims. Beginning in October 2014, new movers will have to pass tests on consumer protection and estimating.
FMCSA received 2,851 complaints about moving companies in 2011, a 17 percent increase over 2010. The agency shut down 75 companies last year. “It’s concerning to us that rogue companies continue to take advantage of consumers who are not fully informed,” says FMCSA chief Anne Ferro. “Our top priority is making sure consumers are made whole.”
Ferro has just six investigators overseeing 4,400 home moving companies, thousands of complaints and 2 million interstate moves a year. The American Moving and Storage Association says consumers need to beware of unlicensed companies that lure potential victims with low prices, phony websites and false credentials, and then hold goods hostage unless victims pay extra.
The law is designed to help people like Frank Culotta, who says he had the contents of his New Jersey home held “hostage” by New Jersey-based Excel Carriers in June. When Culotta arrived at his new Las Vegas home, he says Excel demanded $800 above the original $400 estimate. He says he was told this was for storage fees because he delayed his move by two days while he was hospitalized for respiratory failure.
Excel owner Anthony DelGuidice says Culotta never called to reschedule and that he had to pay to put his employees up in a hotel while trying unsuccessfully to reach Culotta. He says Culotta was only charged an additional $60 storage fee. Mayflower, United Van Lines and FMCSA run Move Rescue, which helps victims reclaim “hostage” goods. Move Rescue arranged to move Culotta’s belongings after he reported Excel to FMCSA, says Move Rescue spokeswoman Melissa Sullivan. FMCSA is reviewing the company.© Copyright 2012 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc., Oliver St. John and Jayne O’Donnell