Florida gets tougher on movers who hold household goods for ransom.
Since 2002, Florida officials have conducted more than 360 investigations of household goods movers and assessed $270,000 in fines. The Florida Attorney General’s office has pursued 22 cases against movers. And the federal government, which regulates the interstate transportation of household goods through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, has prosecuted more than two dozen moving companies operating so-called “hostage goods” schemes since 2000, concentrating its efforts on south Florida, New York and California.
» Reporting Fraud
“If the customer chose not to pay the inflated ‘hostage’ price, the moving company would not make any further rent payments” and the storage facility would eventually auction the customer’s goods, Todd Zinser, acting inspector general for the U.S. Department of Transportation, told a Senate subcommittee last year. Majesty owner Yair Malol is serving a 12-year prison term.
Both the state and federal government have passed laws in recent years cracking down on such scams. Florida law makes it a third-degree felony to hold goods hostage. It also requires movers to provide a written estimate; accept several forms of payment, including cash, check or a major credit card; get a signed contract prior to moving any household goods; and inform the consumer where the goods will be stored prior to delivery. Furthermore, local law enforcement authorities may intervene to help consumers whose goods are held hostage. Consumers may also sue for damages if they’ve been victims of unfair and deceptive practices.
But consumers have fewer legal resources if their goods are being moved across state lines. While Congress made it a felony in 2005 to hold goods hostage, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration lacks law enforcement authority and is precluded from resolving individual complaints.
» 85% to 90% of the more than 3,000 complaints that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration receives each year regarding moving companies are generated in six states: Florida, New York, New Jersey, California, Texas and Illinois.