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GAO: Consumers Still Held Hostage by Movers

Congress Protects Movers at Expense of Consumers

A federal report finds that although there have been improvements, consumers are still being ripped off and held hostage by interstate movers.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) report studied the effectiveness of the the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity ActA Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a division of the Department of Transportation.

SAFETEA-LU, enacted in 2005, put in place more stringent licensing requirements for interstate movers and increased state authority. However, states are still not given authority to regulate interstate household goods movers and there is no indication that any state has taken advantage of the limited authority the act provides, according to the GAO.

Meanwhile, although the FMCSA has increased its efforts, the agency is precluded from resolving individual issues and has no authority to force moving companies to do anything after the move has begun.

As a result, consumers who move from one state to another are still being ripped off.

Many times, moving companies will quote one price and then double or even triple it after crossing a state line. If the individual refuses to meet the movers demands, the company often takes the possessions hostage until the increased rate is paid, according to the report.

Although this appears highly illegal, there are in fact few protections for consumers once they cross a state line. ConsumerAffairs.com has received almost 400 reports about moving companies.

"I was given a quote over the Internet for moving my belongings from Jeffersonville, Ind. to San Rafael, Calif.," wrote Karen of Jeffersonville. "My card was charged $1,400 for a deposit. Then charged another $1,400 when my stuff reached California. But Upfront Movers demanded another $3,500 in cash. Only cash."

"I was told not to call the police. If they didn't get my money they would put my stuff in storage and charge me storage. It's been a few years and it still bothers me to that a move that was supposed to cost maybe a few thousand dollars cost $6,0000," Karen wrote.

After studying federal reports and enforcement data and interviewing federal and state officials, the GAO concluded the Department of Transportation needs to develop a strategy with performance goals and measures for its oversight and enforcement of the industry and take additional actions. The Department has agreed to consider the recommendations.

In the meantime, consumers are encouraged to take preventative measures and consult the FMCAs moving preparation guide.

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