The sting operation took place from July 23 through July 26. In its initial phase, Consumer Affairs investigators posed as consumers seeking to make a typical household move within New Jersey. The investigators booked appointments with known unlicensed movers who advertised on Craigslist, Angie’s List, and other online venues.
A total of 25 allegedly unlicensed moving companies made appointments with the investigators. Of those, 22 sent moving crews to a site in Highland Park, and unwittingly into the second phase of “Operation Mother’s Attic II.” Upon arriving at the site, the unlicensed movers were confronted by Consumer Affairs investigators, and their vehicles were inspected by special transportation compliance units of the New Jersey State Police, who checked driver and vehicle records, and performed standard safety reviews.
“Predatory movers have been known to hold customers’ property hostage as a form of extortion, then demand thousands of dollars more than the price their customers originally agreed to pay,” Attorney General Chiesa said. “We are enforcing New Jersey’s licensing laws in order to protect consumers from this type of abuse, and protect the interests of the many movers who operate honestly and in compliance with the law.”
Under State law, all movers who operate intrastate, that is, point to point within New Jersey, must be licensed by the Division of Consumer Affairs. Licensed movers must protect consumers’ goods by maintaining cargo liability insurance, workers’ compensation insurance, and bodily injury and property damage insurance. Licensed companies also must maintain a bona fide business address in New Jersey. They must register each moving vehicle they use in the state, and keep the vehicles insured and in compliance with inspection requirements. Movers must also provide consumers with a written estimate of the cost of the move.
“One moving company sent a truck that should not have been on the streets because it was uninsured. Another sent a truck that was declared unsafe and unfit for use. Several of the movers were wanted on outstanding warrants, including two who were wanted by US. Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” Acting Director Eric T. Kanefsky said. “These examples illustrate the dangers consumers face when they hire unlicensed movers.”
Acting Director Kanefsky noted that the Division of Consumer Affairs received 119 complaints from consumers about moving companies in 2011 alone.
The sting, conducted with assistance from New Jersey State Police and U.S.. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, resulted in several surprises – many of which illustrate the potential risks facing consumers who hire unqualified movers.
One allegedly unlicensed moving company sent a three-man crew in a truck with apparent significant damage to its front suspension. State Troopers declared the vehicle “out of service” and summoned an impound service to tow the vehicle. The crew had to find their own way back to New York City. Before entering the parking lot of the self-storage area, these same movers were tipped off by an unlicensed mover who was leaving the premises. As they allegedly attempted to flee in the unsafe truck, they were pursued by State Police and stopped approximately one block away and ordered to return to the investigation site.
Another allegedly unlicensed moving company sent a driver and two employees who were each wanted on outstanding warrants for unpaid fines. Making matters worse, their box truck was uninsured. State Police arrested the individuals and impounded the truck for lack of insurance.
Some statistics from the sting operation:
- A total of 11 individuals were arrested, including those mentioned above. Nine were wanted on open warrants for unpaid traffic fines or child support. Two were wanted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and were turned over to ICE custody after being detained by State Police.
- At least 11 of the unlicensed movers advertised on Craigslist. At least seven had their own, deceptively professional-looking websites. At least one advertised on Angie’s List. The rest were listed in online third-party moving websites or other Internet venues. Attorney General Chiesa noted that an attractive online listing does not mean a company is licensed or reputable. It is important to verify a company’s operating authority and compliance history by contacting the Division of Consumer Affairs. This should be done prior to requesting an estimate or seeking a company’s references.
- Despite the requirement that moving companies keep their vehicles properly registered and insured, two unlicensed movers appeared in Budget rental trucks. After being stopped, one unlicensed mover surrendered his rental truck at the investigation site and called for its pickup by a rental dealership representative.
All 25 unlicensed movers who booked appointments with the Consumer Affairs investigators now face Notices of Violation and civil penalties – including three “no-shows,” whose moving crews did not show up for the appointments. Each company faces a civil penalty of up to $2,500. Companies who apply for licensure within 30 days can have their penalty reduced to $1,250. Each mover has the option of requesting an administrative hearing to contest the Notice.
The following moving companies are alleged to be unlicensed, and face civil penalties as a result of the operation. The companies have an opportunity to request a hearing before the Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs, if they dispute the allegations against them.
- Affordable Movers, of Oakhurst
- All Country Moving & Storage, of Union City
- Budget Minded Dependable Movers, of Somerset
- Delbridge Moving & Cleanouts, of Bayonne
- Eric Meekins, advertising as “Eric,” of Long Branch
- Father & Son Moving & Storage, of Pemberton
- General Movers, aka Hoboken Movers, aka Official Moving and Storage, of New York City
- George’s Moving, of Boonton
- Heavy & Light Moves, of Linden
- JHR Group, of Newton
- Lakeland Moving & Storage, of Ringwood
- Marcus Hall Moving & Relocation, of Jersey City
- Mary’s Moving, of Marlton
- Me & My Small Truck, of East Brunswick
- Move for Less, of Palisades Park
- Move For One Flat Rate, of Piscataway
- Movers Working Independent, aka MI JANTO 007, of Garfield
- NJ Pro Movers, aka NY Pro Movers aka Stress Less Movers, of New York City
- Ron’s Moving, of Willingboro
- Shawn the Super Mover, of Manville
- South Jersey Moving, of Blackwood
- Tuck’s Moving Service, of Hackettstown
- Umex Moving & Storage, of Plainfield
- United Direct Movers, of Bloomfield
- Woodbridge Moving, of Tinton Falls
Advice for Consumers:
Before hiring a mover, review the tips available from the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs at www.NJConsumerAffairs.gov/brief/mover.pdf . They include:
- Call the Division of Consumer Affairs at 800-242-5846 to verify if the mover you’re considering is licensed. Ask whether consumer complaints have been filed against the mover.
- Obtain a written estimate from the mover you select. The cost can be estimated on an hourly rate, by weight and miles traveled, or by cubic measurement.
- Never pack jewelry, money, or valuable documents with your goods to be moved. The mover is not responsible for items of extraordinary value.
- Check your goods as they are being delivered. If any are lost or damaged, notify the mover immediately. A damage claim can be filed up to 90 days after the move date.
- Unless you purchase additional coverage, the mover is required to compensate you only up to 60 cents per pound, per article, for damages.
Investigator Oscar Mejia and Kenny Oh, of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs’ Office of Consumer Protection, conducted this investigation. Deputy Attorney General Lorraine Rak represented the State in this matter.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file a complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey ) or 973-504-6200.