U.S. Officials Announce Nationwide Crackdown on Moving Company Scams - ISS Relocations

A Nation-Wide Crackdown on Moving Company Scams Has Been Announced by U.S. Officials

In the wake of a Newsweek investigation detailing how these scams operate, Operation Protect Your Move takes action

As part of Operation Protect Your Move, the U.S. Department of Transportation is cracking down on moving company scams nationwide. According to the department, it is the first of many planned efforts over the next few months.
An investigation by Newsweek recently examined the rising problem of moving scams, including companies that hold customers’ goods hostage while demanding exorbitant fees. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, sent a letter to DoT Secretary Pete Buttigieg calling for tougher action in response to the investigation.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will deploy dozens of investigators to target the most complained-about movers nationwide as part of this operation. DOT figures show that consumer complaints about movers have more than doubled between 2015 and 2022, from 3,030 to 7,647.
“It’s stressful enough to move without worrying about being scammed by your moving company, so we’re cracking down on those companies and brokers who facilitate that fraud,” Buttigieg said.
As part of its announcement, the FMCSA did not mention any new enforcement tools investigators could use to stem the tide of scams they have been unable to curb for decades. A recent investigation by Newsweek found that despite thousands of complaints per year, only 13 criminal cases and six civil cases have been filed against scam moving companies since January 2017.
FMCSA’s efforts have been hampered by a 2019 decision by an administrative law judge that found FMCSA didn’t have authority to assess penalties for violations of laws regulating moving companies. The decision has significantly reduced the agency’s ability to address the growing problem, and Congress must act to close the enforcement gap, agency officials told Newsweek.
According to the release, FMCSA strives to protect consumers from these scams. It is the agency’s responsibility to document violations and revoke licenses of movers and brokers if criminal misconduct is suspected. Cases involving potential criminal misconduct will be referred to the United States Department of Justice for further investigation.

Despite some oversight of the issue by the Judiciary Committee, Blumenthal has declined to comment on his plans to introduce legislation.
The FMCSA’s actions encouraged Blumenthal, who said he would continue to monitor the issue.
He said more needs to be done to shut down fraudulent moving operations, investigate consumer complaints thoroughly, and hold scammers accountable. As a result of this new initiative, I hope industry practices will improve and consumers will be better protected.”
He previously told Newsweek that scams were far less common when he started his career as an investigator at the FMCSA, which he retired after more than 40 years.
In the past, brokers were not allowed to issue estimates, which are often used by scam brokers to fool customers into paying large upfront deposits. If that were reversed and the agency were able to fine movers, many scams could be avoided, according to him.
“There doesn’t seem to be anyone who wants to go on Capitol Hill and tell Congress what we need done,” Hawthorne said.
Over the next several months, FMCSA officials plan to tackle other moving scams. From eight to 17, they will double the number of investigators assigned to complaints about moving companies. Additionally, the agency plans to enhance partnerships with consumer protection officers and state attorneys general and work with Congress on establishing new policies or legislation.
A Newsweek investigation of the industry found scam companies launching with fake online reviews and promises to save customers money. The firms change their names and apply for a new FMCSA license when real reviews come in about people who were dramatically overcharged while their goods were held hostage, damaged, lost or stolen.
“DOT licenses are being issued for theft,” said Susan Chana Lask, who sued several moving companies in 2020, which was settled last year.
“They’re allowing people to get licenses as brokers or movers and then they set up websites and lure consumers in for the big bait and switch,” said Lask, a consumer rights attorney. Nothing seems more sad and vile than paying people to steal your property.”
The victim Newsweek interviewed, Bill Pompliano, still weeps when describing the years of devastation he suffered after moving from Arizona to North Carolina.
A moving broker contracted a carrier to hold the family’s goods hostage. Thus, the 70-year-old retired pharmacist and his wife lost almost all photos and possessions belonging to their son, a music therapist who worked with children before he committed suicide more than three years ago.
Several emotional items were missing, including his piano, Pompliano told Newsweek, wiping away tears. He was our sole child, so we were devastated by the loss of his pictures and other things.

You can reach Matt Clark at m.clark@newsweek.com or on Twitter at @MattTheJourno.

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