Avoid Moving Fraud

Gloria Pugh, CEO AMWAT Moving Warehousing Storage serves as the president of Professional Movers Association of Florida.  Gloria was interviewed by Rebecca Liebson, Real Estate Reporter, Tampa Bay Times.  Below is a copy of the article appearing in the Tampa Bay Times on May 11, 2023.

Moving scams are rampant in Florida. Here’s how to spot them

Moving is stressful even under the best circumstances. For 69-year-old Evelyn Gagliastro, the process turned into “one of the most horrible experiences” of her life after her moving company hustled her out of thousands of dollars and held her belongings hostage for almost six months.

In December 2021, Gagliastro hired Lauderhill-based Gold Standard Moving and Storage LLC to move her from New Jersey to St. Augustine. After she paid them more than $2,000 and loaded all her stuff onto a moving truck, “I went to Florida and they never showed up,” she said.

How common are moving scams?

Gagliastro is one of hundreds of victims of a massive moving scam associated with Gold Standard.

In December, Attorney General Ashley Moody filed suit against three individuals with ties to Gold Standard as well as a slew of other fraudulent moving companies to try and permanently prevent them from doing business in the state. That case is ongoing.

“The defendants promised top-quality moving services, but instead provided shoddy work, higher-than-advertised prices and loads of headaches for people simply trying to relocate,” Moody said in a statement.

Harry Winderman, an attorney representing Gold Standard, said the company could not comment on pending litigation.

Florida has become a hotbed for these cons, with thousands of people moving here every day.

Newsweek analyzed moving company complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. It found that 3,833 of the 7,647 complaints filed last year were about companies in Florida.

What is a moving broker?

Gloria Pugh, president of the Professional Movers Association of Florida, said most of these problematic companies are not licensed movers but “moving brokers.

Unlike traditional moving companies which own their own trucks, these businesses act as middle men, hiring contractors to move their clients from place to place.

Sometimes, these companies will simply collect a deposit and take off with the cash, said Pugh. Other times, a different company will show up on moving day asking for more money.

This was the case for Gagliastro. The workers that arrived at her house were from Mid East Moving, not Gold Standard. They told her she’d have to pay an additional $700 on top of the $2,319 she initially agreed to.

She was told it would take about five days to transport her belongings to Florida. When she didn’t hear back after a week, Gagliastro started to get nervous. She called the company and they told her they’d look into it.

It went on like this for months, with Gagliastro calling every day but never getting any straight answers.

“It was torture,” she said. “They strung me along.”

Then in March, she was told that her stuff might be in a warehouse in New Jersey. She spent hundreds more to rent a truck so her daughter could drive to New Jersey and pick everything up herself. But when her daughter arrived, the warehouse was closed.

In June, she rented another truck and tried again. This time, when her daughter arrived at the warehouse, all of Gagliastro’s possessions were there waiting for her.

Even after months of agony, Gagliastro said she feels lucky to have gotten back irreplaceable items like her jewelry and family heirlooms.

“I could have easily lost everything,” she said.

Improving Florida’s moving industry

In February, state Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, introduced legislation aimed at regulating moving brokers. Though the bill died in committee, Hooper said he plans to refile it next session.

If it passes, it would:

  • Require moving brokers to identify themselves as such and show customers proof of their registration with the state.
  • Require moving brokers to provide customers with a binding cost estimate
  • Require moving brokers to work with registered moving companies.
  • Require the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to suspend moving brokers’ licenses if they violate certain rules.

“We want to give the consumer protections to where there’s no surprises,” Hooper said. “It sounds so simple but people get scammed every day.”

How to spot a moving scam

Like many moving scam victims, Gagliastro never received a refund from Gold Standard.

Pugh said it can be hard to hold these companies accountable because many customers lack adequate evidence. Others feel too ashamed to file a complaint.

The best way for consumers to protect themselves is to know what signs to look for when hiring a mover.

Some common red flags include:

  • Price. If one company gives an estimate that is significantly lower than other quotes you’ve gotten, it’s probably best to avoid. “Good movers aren’t cheap and cheap movers aren’t good,” said Pugh.
  • Customer service. Many moving brokers operate solely online. A legitimate company should be able to send an in-person representative to your home to take inventory of your belongings and give you an estimate.
  • Reviews. Some companies will appear to have glowing online reviews at first glance. But Pugh said it’s important to dig deeper. Get a recommendation from a trusted friend or Realtor. Check with the State Attorney General’s Office and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to see if complaints have been filed against a company.

Floridians who wish to report a moving scam can contact the Florida Attorney General’s Office by visiting MyFloridaLegal.com or calling 1(866) 9NO-SCAM.