All of Lauren Nydam's furniture is being held for ransom by a moving company and she has no idea where any of it is.
"After they loaded into the truck, the bill was suddenly three times what the original estimate had been," said Nydam. "I refused to pay that and so they're holding onto my things until I pay them."
Nydam found the moving company, Moving Services of America, online. Their website says they have movers all across the country.
Trusting them, Nydam paid $1,200 dollars up front and agreed to pay the balance when her goods arrived for a total of nearly $1,900 dollars.
Everything seemed to be OK, but Moving Services of America showed up a day late at the very same time Nydam was graduating from Duke University Law School.
When her belongings were supposed to arrive in Newport Beach, the movers called and demanded almost $3,000 dollars more. Nydam was being held up by a bandit moving company.
There are legitimate and ethical movers who play by the rules, but bandit movers don't. These companies often put up several red flags that consumers need to be aware of.
"Using an internet-only mover is red flag number one," said Steve Weitekamp from California Moving and Storage Association. "You definitely want people to come out to your residence and give you a written estimate."
Weitekamp is president of California Moving and Storage and points out red flag number two.
"They are required to come out and give you a guaranteed price," said Weitekamp. "Or not to exceed price depending on the type of move that you are doing."
Nydam's estimate said nothing about guarantees. Weitekamp disclosed red flag number three.
"Generally professional movers do not ask for any kind of deposit in advance of the move," said Weitekamp.
The Moving Services of America website claims it is a member of several professional associations. However each association said Moving Services was not a member of theirs, and said they will send out cease-and-desist letters to them.
When Moving Services of America was contacted through their phone number they hung up. Their local address is only a mail drop. Unfortunately, interstate bandit movers are mostly unregulated.
"On the interstate side there is a regulatory agency, the Federal Motors Carrier Administration," said Weitekamp. "But they have a very minimal enforcement staff."
Nydam is left alone to negotiate with the movers to get her belongings back, but it is going to cost her more than she bargained for.
"They have everything I own, so what can you really do?" said Nydam.
Not much. Local law enforcement usually can't find them because bandit moving companies are usually run by brokers in some other part of the country who hire freelance movers for the job that probably know nothing about the scam.