WAUKESHA, Wis. - Hiring the wrong moving company can be a financial and emotional nightmare.
Since 2017, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) has gotten 170 complaints about moving companies. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns that consumers can encounter scammers who price gouge or even take their belongings hostage.
Every year, Contact 6 works to resolve issues with moving companies behind the scenes.
Stefanie Harvey knows the importance of hiring the right moving company. She met Contact 6 in July during her family’s fourth week without furniture. They were waiting for their interstate movers to show up.
On June 18, movers in California loaded up Harvey’s belongings onto their truck. On June 24, Harvey arrived at her new Waukesha apartment with her four-year-old daughter, Scout, and then nine-month-old son, Skylar. She thought their movers would arrive that same day. They wouldn’t arrive until July 30.
"I just feel like I was misled and lied-to throughout the whole process," said Harvey.
Any mom with young kids inevitably spends time on the floor. For Harvey, there was no other option. Scout showed Contact 6 the blankets and pillows on the floor in one bedroom where she slept alongside her mom.
"I am getting sick of it, but what can I do at this point?" Harvey told Contact 6.
To get her family’s belongings from California to Waukesha, Harvey hired the interstate broker Discount Van Lines, LLC. That broker found a carrier in Sacramento, A-1 Transportation and Relocation, LLC, which picked up the Harvey family’s stuff.
Contact 6 also found both business have complaints filed with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), including complaints of ‘deceptive business practices.’
Consumers have filed 28 complaints with the FMCSA against Discount Van Lines in 2022, including 23 complaints claiming deceptive business practices. Consumers have filed ten complaints with the FMCSA about against A-1 Transportation and Relocation, including eight complaints alleging deceptive business practices.
"I was told that my stuff is sitting in a climate-controlled warehouse in California," said Harvey, when she met with Contact 6 in July.
Harvey says she experienced many of the tactics outlined in a BBB study on moving scams. One tactic: a low-ball price estimate, but the actual cost ends up being much higher.
Harvey says she did not get an in-person estimate. To get her quote, Harvey says she listed her belongings over the phone.
"Sometimes with movers, it’s an out-and-out scam. Sometimes, it’s just a miscommunication," said Jim Temmer, BBB of Wisconsin president.
In worst cases, Temmer says movers may inform customers only after their items are loaded that the price has gone up.
"It is like paying ransom," said Temmer.
That’s how Harvey says she ended up signing a contract with A-1 Transportation and Relocation in haste, agreeing to pay $6,400 when she’d been quoted $2,300 by Discount Van Lines.
With most of her belongings already on the truck, Harvey says she was informed her items took up much more cubic feet than anticipated.
"I said, "OK, I guess I don’t have a choice, I guess I have to pay it," said Harvey.
Harvey says she was not informed the cost would be based on cubic feet prior to her moving date. A manager for Discount Van Lines, LLC told reporter Jenna Sachs over the phone that wasn’t true. He also said that Discount Van Lines "had no malicious intent."
DATCP warns consumers to avoid movers that give a verbal quote and not one in writing. It advises avoiding companies with websites without an address, registration and insurance information.
"Before you exchange money. Before they take your belongings, you want to understand what you’re paying for. What the timeframe is," said Lara Sutherlin, administrator of the Division of Trade and Consumer Protection.
Harvey expected her furniture to arrive in June, but her signed contract with A-1 Transportation and Relocation reveals its standard delivery is "up to thirty (30) business weekdays, not including storage time, beginning on the first date indicated as available for delivery (not the date of pickup)."
That’s why Harvey’s moving truck arrived in Waukesha on July 30th, which was 36 days after her family moved in.
Contact 6 reporter Jenna Sachs was on site when Harvey’s items finally showed up in Waukesha. Sachs wanted to speak with the carrier about Harvey’s complaints but the only mover unloading the truck indicated he spoke limited English.
Weeks after their furniture delivery, Harvey’s family is moving on. Their empty apartment is now filled with personal belongings and is starting to feel like a home.
"I feel very relieved about having my belongings. I thought that there was a chance that they wouldn’t come," said Harvey.
Harvey has filed complaints with several government agencies about her broker and carrier.