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Patte Elrod is living with friends in Redondo Beach, not so much because she wants to but because she has to. Patte was on her way to moving out of state but her moving company picked up her belongings and held them hostage.
"Once they had a lot of my belongings on their trucks, they started telling me that they were going to have to charge about three times more," said Patte.
That meant the movers went from an estimate of $8,000 to a new bill of more than $25,000, even though the contract said "no hidden costs."
"This has been the worst year of my life," said Patte.
Adrianne Pomorski is a Hurricane Katrina survivor who moved to Southern California, but along the way her household goods and effects were hijacked when she fought the new bill.
"When they showed up a day late, they gave me a blank bill of lading to fill out on my own, and started putting my stuff in their truck," said Adrianne. "Well, when they were all finished, and they closed and locked up the door to the truck, they came up with the final price, and it was two and a half times what the estimate was."
Both Adrianne and Patte had been taken by rogue movers. Both eventually got their goods back, but not until moving expert and attorney Gregg Garfinkel got involved, and even then it was a struggle.
"After giving seven different delivery dates and four and a half months later, yes, they finally delivered it," said Adrianne.
Garfinkel has filed many lawsuits against rogue movers who operate this way because there is little enforcement of the laws.
"All you need is a Web site, a catchy phrase and a business card, and you can operate a moving and storage company," said Garfinkel.
"The number of rogue movers that are out there is really undermining the whole industry," said Edwin Nabal. "It gives the entire industry a bad name."
Edwin Nabal runs a legitimate moving business and he says there are plenty like him who will take care of consumers. Here's how you find them:
- Get recommendations from friends, relatives, or go with names you know.
- Check with the Better Business Bureau for complaints.
- Look for members of a professional moving organization.
- Schedule at least two on-site estimates, which should be free.
- Do not get quotes over the phone or the Internet.
- Be wary of low-ball price quotes.
- Get a written estimate that should be binding.
- If non-binding, the estimate should not exceed 110 percent of the original estimate.
"I went with people who gave a lower estimate," said Patte. "And I won't ever do that again."