Expert on Criminology Has Items Stolen by Movers, Is Challenged to a Lie Detector Test

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Imagine spending twenty years studying fraud and white-collar crime. Imagine you’ve taught on the subject at the university level, you’ve written articles and books on fraud, and imagine you’ve even made a documentary on the largest case of municipal fraud in U.S. history. Top your hypothetical off with a Ph.D. in accounting, and you’d be pretty sure you could handle it if someone accused you of lying. Especially if you weren’t.

So now imagine how a woman by the name of Kelly Pope, who actually fit all of these descriptions, felt after she complained to her moving company that her movers stole some of her property, then they accused her of lying. Pope found herself on the defense, accused by the moving company of making a fraudulent claim. Says Pope in a recent Forbes article,

A crime was committed (in my case, movers working for a large moving company ransacked my drawers, found my hidden wedding bands, and stole them, during my move). I discovered the theft right after the movers left my house and immediately reported the crime to the police, offering a minute by minute account of what had happened. Next, I contacted the president of the company via LinkedIn and shared my complaint, then I waited and waited…and waited for a resolution. During that wait time, I never thought that the moving company would turn the tables on me to the point where I now find myself scared to speak about my story because the company has threatened to seek legal action…against me.

Kelly Pope. Forbes.com

Her story plays out like a movie, complete with a lie detector test and the very real chance that her name and good reputation, not to mention her life’s work, could all be forever tarnished if she didn’t clear herself – which, Ms. Pope would find out, can be extremely difficult to do in this age of instant commentary and lies flying all over the place.

So you may be wondering …

Did our heroine pass her polygraph? Did she clear her name? Did she get her property back? And what about those thieving movers? Whatever happened to them?

Well, she didn’t get her stuff back. The law makes thievery difficult to prove without proof. But she did use a polygraph to help clear her own name against the movers.

As for the loss of wedding bands that were selfishly stolen from me, probably never to be returned or replaced by the moving company, I feel sad. But what I feel sadder about still is the way a legal maneuver was used to silence a would-be whistle-blower.

You may be wondering, by the way, about the results from my polygraph test. Was I lying?  Hell No! I passed the polygraph with flying colors. I did not issue a false claim against that thief-of-a-moving company… The truth has set me free.

Not the best situation all around, but a lesson to any crummy moving companies out there thinking about crossing your customers: be careful who you steal from.

What to Do When Movers Break, Steal or Won’t Give Back Your Stuff

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At HireAHelper, we hear other people’s stories of bad movers all the time.

Whether these stories come to us through emails or from customers calling us after a moving company has wronged them, these same cries come up time and again: “All my stuff is missing,” or “All my stuff is damaged,” or even worse, “My movers are holding my stuff for ransom!”

There’s one word we always hear from these customers-turned-victims: “helpless”.

In these situations, it’s painfully clear: these movers aren’t playing by the rules. But what recourse do you actually have when your movers refuse to pay for damages, replace missing items, or opt to not deliver your stuff unless you fork over another thousand bucks?

Unprofessional movers get away with a lot of crap. That’s the unfortunate truth. But if you believe your movers have acted illegally and they aren’t taking responsibility, there are ways to fight back.

Here are four options you should immediately explore.

Alert your state’s Consumer Affairs Division.

Not only can investigators help you resolve your complaint about broken items or track down your stuff – or your movers – but they may also work with law enforcement authorities in getting unlicensed, unethical and illegal movers off the streets, just as they have in New Jersey. From New Jersey’s official website:

“Horror stories about predatory movers are all too common. By its very nature, the moving industry touches the lives of consumer when they are vulnerable and when they must rely on strangers to transport their valued possessions,” Acting Attorney General Hoffman said. “These situations create the potential for abuse. We are enforcing New Jersey’s licensing laws in order to protect consumers and, just as importantly, to ensure a level playing field for New Jersey’s many honest and licensed moving companies.”

Movers must usually be licensed with the state. (Here’s a list to check your’s.) If they are doing moves across state lines, they must additionally be licensed by the federal government. Cross-checking this with your Consumer Affairs Division is a quick way to begin the resolution process. Get ahold of Consumer Affairs Division in your state via this directory, which is a government-run database with the corresponding phone number, website and/or email address of your local division’s office.

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See prices for local moving labor. Read real customer reviews. Easily book your help online.

If this was an interstate move, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) can also get involved. How they can help, along with the info and links you need, can be found on their Protect Your Move page. Their toll-free hotline is 1-888-368-7238.

Call your local police.

In the past, there was not much local law enforcement could do in disputes between moving companies and customers due to the fact such disputes are civil and not yet criminal matters. But recent changes in some states’ laws have given those local authorities the power to mediate; In particular, some laws now intervene when a moving company is sitting outside a customer’s home demanding more money before they unload.

Just this year, Arizona passed House Bill 2145which in Arizona requires moving companies to unload customers’ belongings in case of a dispute regarding payment on an intrastate move. We’d hope that this would be standard lawful procedure across the country, but sadly not all states are up to speed on this loophole.

But regardless of civil versus criminal matters, a mover being properly licensed is something the police can act on. Knowledge is power – but only if it is used! 

Get in touch with MoveRescue.

This organization can assist you by obtaining information on your move, advising you as to your options and, in some hostage situations, working with the moving company to get your goods released. Plus, they’re vetted by United and Mayflower, two of the larger Full-Service moving companies in the industry. 

From their website:

Approximately 1.6 million Americans hire interstate household goods movers each year. Unfortunately, a reported 3,000 cases of possible mover fraud occur annually. Many of these cases involve criminals who offer low estimates and then hold customers’ possessions hostage in undisclosed warehouses, demand thousands of dollars in additional payments and threaten auction. MoveRescue is devoted to ending this problem by seeing that moving companies abide by the federal consumer protection regulations.

Move Rescue does offer a disclaimer that they cannot offer immediate and complete assistance to everyone who calls. Call them anyway: 800-832-1773.

Contact your local news.

More often than not, whenever we do hear of a customer finally getting their belongings delivered it was because they sought the help of a local news station. In this case, the victim had refused to pay her movers what amounted to extortion, and the movers drove off with her stuff. The victim then contacted a local news station and their consumer reporter got the recovery ball rolling by calling the FMCSA, who got right to work. From WFTV9:

“Every day I don’t have my stuff, I can’t work, it’s put me farther and farther behind,” said Smith as she fought back tears.

Todd Ulrich contacted the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration that oversees interstate moves.

After federal regulators reviewed the company’s estimates, and the final bill, the agency took action. It ordered the company to honor the $1,200 estimate and return her belongings or face a possible $10,000 fine.

“They felt there was negligence, and generally they were out of compliance,” said Smith

A week later the mover released the storage unit address and key.

Smith took a huge step toward starting her new life in Winter Park.

“I don’t believe I would have gotten here this quickly without your intervention, so I appreciate it,” she said.

Understand that the process took weeks, not minutes. If you find yourself the victim of a bad bunch of movers, you may also need weeks, or even months, to get the situation resolved. So before you find yourself a victim, protect yourself by doing your homework on any moving company you contact. This list of recommendations by the Illinois Movers’ and Warehousemen’s Association covers everything you need to know and do before you hire a mover.

Or to likely avoid any of this …

It’s harder to tend to these issues after they’ve already happened, which is why we built HireAHelper around holding movers accountable from the get-go; movers on our national database live and die by their reviews. We also work seven days a week to take care of any potential claims, or if something drastic happens, to find replacement movers as soon as possible (often for the same day).

Small claims court, calling the police or filing reports take a long time. Booking a vetted mover through a marketplace is much safer because even if something goes wrong, we work with you to fix it.

We believe it’s important to keep movers accountable, so you don’t have to.

As for opting to work directly with moving companies, you can help others from falling victim to the same irresponsible, illegal movers by writing an online review (which might more accurately be called an online warning), informing the Better Business Bureau of your situation, and filing a complaint with your state authorities as well as the FMCSA. These governmental agencies don’t usually have the resources to go after every moving company that pulls a fast one (sad but true), but if the complaints on a company start piling up there’s a chance that company will have the hammer of the law come down on them.

And that’s really all we want.

That, and getting all our stuff back, undamaged, on time and at cost. That shouldn’t be too much to ask.


Illustrations by Nicole Miles

Duda Loses, Mets Fans Win!

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Hire A Helper Goes to Bat in a Pinch

Lucas Duda heads home. (via New York Daily News)

Lucas Duda heads home. (via New York Daily News)

Here at HireAHelper we are always looking for ways to beat back the negative stories about our industry by providing professional service, earning positive customer feedback and spreading goodwill all around. A few days ago we found the perfect opportunity to do something extra special in this regard, timed perfectly to honor May as National Moving Month.

According to the New York Daily News it seems Mets power-hitting first baseman (and…ahem…fellow USC alum) Lucas Duda was the target of a rob-job while the team was on the road. Before leaving town on April 6th Lucas handed his apartment keys to a representative of the moving company the Mets hired to move Duda while he was away. When he arrived at his new apartment on April 17th he found his door open and $1600 worth of stuff missing.

While this doesn’t shine a positive light on the movers no official statements have been made as to their possible involvement. Still, for someone fully involved in the moving industry and deeply committed to its success, this kind of story is tough to digest. But hey! I’m part of this country’s greatest marketplace for movers and I can do something about it! So even though we can’t do anything to help our friend Lucas (until his next move), we can jump in and help out his fans!

For the entire month of May we’ll be offering a free move* for each home run that Lucas Duda hits, home or away, win or lose, left field right field or deep to center. Here’s how it works: (more…)

How to Find The Safest Neighborhoods in Your City

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There’s no doubt that moving is a stressful time, but what happens when you’re ready to move but don’t know which neighborhood to choose? For most people, one of the biggest priorities is finding a place that is, first and foremost, safe. The problem is that while you’re looking at potential properties, there is little you can do to figure out the safety level of any given neighborhood. Real estate agents are not permitted to give either positive or negative comments about a particular neighborhood’s safety due to fair housing laws. This means it’s time to strap on your gumshoes and do a little detective work.

Trulia.com's Austin, TX Crime Map

Trulia.com’s Austin, TX Crime Map

Online Data

Fortunately, the question of neighborhood safety is so common that several websites have sprouted up to answer this precise inquiry (for example, checkout Trulia.com’s Austin crime map pictured above). You’ll be able to find fancy overlaid maps with crime statistics and tons of data, but it often doesn’t tell the whole story. Obviously, you’ll want to avoid areas with high instances of property or physical crime, but how comprehensive is the data you’re looking at? In most cases, the incidents are only those that are reported and a police report has been filed. While this information is useful, nothing beats an actual visit to the neighborhood to see what’s going on.

The Seeds Of Crime

One of the most interesting correlations in neighborhood crime rates is found in houses that are in disrepair. For some reason, criminals prefer areas that have plenty of broken windows, abandoned lots, and houses that are falling apart. The psychological theory is that vandals feel more confident attacking these types of neighborhoods than those that are in a more pristine state. From a positive perspective, this means that areas with what appear to be more modest housing options may actually be safer if they are obviously well-maintained with mowed yards and no litter on the ground. On your walk through the neighborhood, be on the lookout for these signs, especially in the close vicinity of the property you’re thinking about buying or renting.

Talk To People

The general feeling of being a neighbor may not be as common as it was 50 years ago, but the truth is that your potential neighbors will have the best information about how safe the area is. In addition, they will generally not have a vested interest into whether you move to the neighborhood or not, meaning that they will be likely to give honest answers to your questions. Before you sign on the dotted line, be sure to knock on some doors with a nice gift of flowers or chocolates and a list of safety-related questions. Chances are high that you’ll get the exact information you’re looking for.

While nobody can predict how crime can rise and fall in the coming years, it certainly helps to move into a neighborhood that is currently safe. Doing due diligence will take very little time and the rewards for making the right neighborhood are immense. Follow these tips and you’ll stand the best chance of finding a safe place to live in your city.

President Shawn Wood of Student Movers

About the Author
Shawn Wood is the founder and President of Student Movers, a California moving company that helps families and businesses relocate across the Golden State. Shawn is a member of the California Moving & Storage Association, supporter of many charities, and an avid snowboarder. Connect with Shawn on Facebook and Twitter. You can also book a moving labor crew from Student Movers to load or unload your belongings through HireAHelper.com.

Do Movers Always Add on Extra Fees After a Job?

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A customer tweeted a review of their helper yesterday that reminded me, again, of one of the main reasons we’re trying so hard to let everyone know about HireAHelper.

Screenshot of HireAHelper Customer Review

It’s too often that customers note, and appreciate the fact that they aren’t charged additional fees at the end of jobs booked on HireAHelper.com. This should be the industry standard! I understand it takes more effort than usual to go up 5 flights of stairs or to safely carry a baby grand piano out of a house. Those parts of moving that require extra skill or energy should be compensated with appropriate additional fees. But let the customer know up front what all the fees and costs are. It only takes a few seconds to say “Here’s our price, plus we charge $100 to move upright pianos, and $10 per flight of stairs above 3 flights.”

I don’t walk into In-N-Out, order a double-double, extra cheese, animal style, sit down and enjoy it, to then get up and be met at the door by an employee asking me for a $3 seat-fee. I know exactly what I’m paying and why, and so I return to In-N-Out regularly (plus the burgers are great). More and more people each year are scared away from using the moving industry to help them relocate because of terrible past experiences, most involving bogus extra charges that surprised them at the end of a job.

My plea with those of you in our glorious moving industry is simple:

Be clear and upfront with your pricing and fees.

Charge what you need to in order to make a good living – you work hard and deserve that. Just be as forthright as you can with what they can expect to pay, and we’ll all see the moving industry established in the mind of the consumer as the professional service it really is.

And if you’re a customer wondering if you’ll always have to worry about fees being added on to your bill at the end of your move, our answer is a resounding, “No!” Quotes on HireAHelper are as clear as we can possibly make them – a flat cost for the first set of hours, and one hourly fee for any time used beyond that. The extra hourly fee doesn’t change as the job gets closer, and there are no hidden travel fees or gas costs to be worried about. Thanks for letting me vent a little. Have a great rest of your Tuesday.

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How to Avoid Moving Scams

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As I was reading through moving-related news today, I noticed most the articles were about moving scams. What frustrates me the most is that we’re now going on decades of this behavior without a clear end in sight. You’d think at some point the criminals would be caught and locked up leaving the rest of us a little less stressed about our next move. Moving is stressful enough even if it all goes perfectly. So I put together a quick note with some tips on how to avoid moving scams.

(more…)

Avoid Theft During Your Move

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I had a recent conversation with my friend Jim who used to work for a moving company in Illinois.  While he did only local moves for this company, he has also moved several family members across the country.  The stories he’s obtained from moving short and long distances are pretty humorous, but those can be told at another time and place.

However, one particular story has stuck with me, during which his sister’s TV was stolen from her car while moving from Atlanta to Los Angeles.  This story has served as a catalyst for me to pass along some wisdom and tips that will help you minimize the chances of theft during your move.

1.  Lock your doors and roll up your windows.  This should possibly go without saying, but there are times when it’s easy to forget.  For instance, it may only take a couple minutes for you to hop out of your car or truck and refuel; however, it also takes even less time for someone to grab your purse or other items as you swipe your card, hit the credit option, choose the type of fuel you want, etc.  It may also be tempting to leave your windows cracked if the weather is hot, however this leaves your car or truck open to theft.

2.  Keep valuables out of site.  Keep things covered and hidden as much as possible.  One thing I had never considered was the value of prescription drugs.  Apparently these are a hot commodity for thieves, so keep those out of site along with mp3 players, laptops, cell phones and the like.

3.  Stop as little as possible. While travelling across the country, stopping to sleep, refuel and eat is unavoidable, but keep in mind that the more you stop, the higher your chances are of having items stolen.

4.  Use common sense and trust your instincts. Choose well-lit areas if you have to park your car somewhere – whether to rest or eat.  If the area is poorly-lit, there are not many people around, or you’re feeling uneasy about the surroundings, pick a different location.

5.  Service your car or truck before packing and heading out. Though life is commonly hectic before a big move, it pays to take care of your car beforehand as it will be taking on the extra weight of being loaded down.  The last thing you want is to break down alongside the road with all your belongings.  Most towing companies will not tow or change a tire on a vehicle that is loaded for a move.  So you would either need to get another vehicle out there to switch all the belongings, leave your car there while you go and get a vehicle, or unload all your belongings right there.  All three choices are my definition of a nightmare and could easily lead to theft!

6.  ID Theft. This is another thing that hadn’t crossed my mind prior to several conversations with those who have seen the worst.  I had always considered Identity Theft to be more of a danger with credit cards and online spending.  However, apparently ID thieves also watch people preparing to move because people are going through files and tossing old mail, statements, and even junk mail offers.  Thieves waiting for the lucky break of finding partial credit card numbers or bank account numbers.  As you pack and clean, be mindful of what you’re tossing out.  Make sure anything important is completely shredded.

While there is nothing you can do to prevent all mishaps during a move, there are definitely steps you can take to minimize the possibility.  By following the tips listed above, you will be on your way to creating a safe and happy moving experience.

Photo courtesy of http://pendletonpanther.files.wordpress.com/
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