The dark side of moving

There's little manpower to investigate some claims

Kodo was Tracey Hein's first horse, so when she packed up and moved Kodo tagged along and so did Tracy's two dogs, her husband and toddler son. "We were able to get from Arizona to Florida in four nights," she said.

But that was the easy part. "We had stuff stolen, damaged, missing."

Tracey says the Beltmann Group, the Phoenix-based moving business she hired to pack and transport her family's most prized possession, didn't show up on the delivery date as promised

"Evidently it was the busiest moving time of the year. They told me it was like an airplane. They overbooked," she said.

Seventeen days later the truck finally pulled up in front of Tracey's Port St. Lucie home. "My blood just boils thinking about it," she said.

She claims comforters, collectibles and baby beds were broken and missing. Their PlayStation 3 as well as a game was gone.  "I picked it up and it seemed very light so right away we opened it up and there was no console in there."

It turns out, she says the actual game was gone too.  

Then, there was a picture frame.  "The picture itself doesn't mean anything to anybody else, but to me, it's priceless."

Tracey found an empty easel. It used to hold a tiny photo of her as a little girl, a gift from her grandmother.

"It's very special; she passed away a few years ago and that was one of the things that was at her house," she said.  "I've cried so much that now I'm just angry."

Right away she started writing, calling, begging she says to be made whole. She thought the "maximum value protection plan" she purchased before the move along with the company's own punch list reporting her broken and missing items would surely help.

"They denied my claims saying that we couldn't prove that we had the articles to begin with that were missing because we couldn't tell them.  "We paid them to pack our stuff so of course I didn't know which box they were in...I don't have any recourse."

So the Contact Five Investigators checked that out. Palm Beach County Consumer Affairs doesn't have the jurisdiction to help and neither does Florida's Attorney General.   

Tracey filed a complaint with the Federal Motors Carrier Safety Administration in Washington, D.C., but we learned, there's little manpower there to investigate claims like hers.

Tracey says she kept calling the company, kept badgering for reimbursement and kept being told no.  "It was a full time job battling them to get any closure and even then, the closure wasn't right."

Even though Tracey estimates the value of her missing and broken items at more than $5,000, she finally settled for $1,300 plus compensation for money she spent on housing and food while waiting for her goods. "They should have given it to me up front," she said.

The Beltmann Group didn't return our calls, but the company is an agent of North American Van Lines, which after several months made Tracey that settlement deal.


The company sent us a statement that reads: "North American Van Lines provided Mrs. Hein with compensation for damages and delay due to her move as well as a means to resolve her claim through a third party arbitration process. North American Van Lines apologizes for her inconvenience during this extraordinarily busy summer moving season."

While smaller scale moving complaints may not be getting federal scrutiny, the Contact 5 Investigators have found a congressional committee is now investigating thousands of moving complaints involving very serious claims, such as fraud and theft, and at the same time a federal lawsuit has been filed in Denver, Colorado making similar claims.

In that indictment, the U.S. government is suing five moving companies and brokers for things like wire fraud, theft, and extortion.

One of the brokers not named as a defendant, but mentioned several times as a party in the alleged illegal activity, is the South Florida-based business World Wide Van Lines.

The Contact 5 Investigators went searching for the company.  No moving trucks outside, just a few folks working the phones inside an office in a Delray Beach strip mall.

Darryl Lawson, World Wide Van Lines general manager told us he didn't know anything about the federal investigation.  
But Sheri Dolphin says her experience with World Wide Van Lines matches up with what the federal authorities are claiming.

"I gave him $300.95 for a deposit," she said. She claims she waited 15 days for her mover to pack her up in Vermont and move her belongings to Jupiter.

"The truck driver calls and says, 'We're on our way to pick up your belongings in Killington, Vermont and we were just stopped at a weigh station and told we need a passport to get into Vermont." "I said, 'Where are you coming from?'  He says 'New Jersey.' "You're driving from New Jersey to Vermont and you need a passport?  I don't think so."

The driver never showed and Sheri claims she had to fight to get her deposit returned.

Sheri Dolphin, the World Wide Van Lines' Lawson said in a statement:  "We don't hold anybody's money.  We tried to get trucks to her, but some routes were messed up. Unfortunately in business, you have some unsatisfied customers.  That's just business. Period."

Tell that to Sheri Dolphin and Tracie Hine.

"It's a little disconcerting and upsetting," said Dolphin.

"They're not just goods to me, they're precious things," said Hine. "It's my life, my family's life."

Before signing a contract with a mover, it's recommend that you check for complaints about the company with your local consumer affairs department, the Better Business Bureau and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

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