Rossen Reports

Couple say moving company held their belongings hostage

Aug. 6, 2013 at 7:33 AM ET

Video: When you’re hiring a moving company, you trust them with all your possessions. But authorities say a small percentage of rogue companies are taking advantage by taking your money and holding your belongings hostage. NBC’s Jeff Rossen reports on one couple’s moving nightmare.

After a two-month ordeal, belongings have been returned to a couple who went through a nightmare cross-country move.

Ashley Kenner and her fiancé, Mike Gorokhovksy, wound up sleeping on an air mattress in the living room of their 3-bedroom Colorado home. They say their furniture and possessions were “held hostage” by the moving company they had hired.

More than 35 million Americans move each year, according the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the federal agency that regulates interstate movers. The FMCSA says that most moving companies are legitimate, but warns that "in recent years, a growing number of complaints have been filed against interstate movers — and many of those complaints spring from the fraudulent practices of a small percentage of dishonest movers known as rogue movers."

First Call Movers was the company Kenner and Gorokhovksy hired to move their stuff from Florida to Colorado. The contract, for just over $1,700, said everything would be delivered within 14 to 21 business days. But two months went by, and still nothing arrived.

Kenner said she called the company every day, "and it went from 'Your stuff will be here in about 15 days,' 'Your stuff will be there in about 10 days, eight days,' to 'Your stuff is still in our warehouse in Florida.'"

Now First Call Movers is under investigation by the federal government. Anne Ferro runs the agency regulating interstate movers.

First Call Movers has racked up dozens of complaints about charges, pickup and delivery, and holding people's items hostage. "It's the very nature of that kind of complaint that puts a company high on our list of priorities to investigate," Ferro said. While she wouldn't comment on this specific case, her agency has created a national fraud task force to crack down on rogue movers.

When visited at First Call Movers offices in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., by TODAY, the company declined request for an on-camera interview.

In an email, the company said there has been "no runaround" with Kenner and Gorokhovksy; that for two months they didn't know where to deliver their belongings because on the initial estimate it was listed as going into storage in Colorado.

But Kenner said, "We never wanted our stuff in storage." She said First Call was told multiple times where the belongings were to be delivered.

After we spoke to them, Kenner and Gorokhovksy filed a federal complaint against First Call. The day after TODAY's visit to First Call's office, the couple's moving van arrived. After two months in limbo, they got all their stuff back, from the furniture down to the dishes. The company also gave them a full refund.

"No more paper plates!" Kenner exulted. "We'd absolutely like to thank the TODAY show, because without your help, this wouldn't have happened."

So how do you protect yourself from becoming a victim?

  • Have the movers come to your house to give an estimate; don't do it over the phone. That way the movers can't jack up the bill later, claiming you have extra stuff.
  • Always ask: "Who is doing my move?" Sometimes companies hire subcontractors to do the actual work.
  • For more moving tips, and to research the complaint record of an interstate moving company, or file a complaint against an interstate mover, go to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration by clicking here.
  • To file a complaint against a mover for a move within your state, contact your state's Department of Consumer Protection. For more info, click here.
  • You can also research a moving company's record and file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau by clicking here.

Statement from First Call to TODAY:

"Regarding Ms. Kenner's delivery, there has been no "runaround." The shipper requested that their items be transported to carrier storage. The shipper did not disclose the final destination to us at the time the estimate was prepared, they simply requested carrier storage. When the items were picked up, the shipper did not disclose the destination address on the bill of lading. Those facts are consistent with the estimate agreement and bill of lading signed by the shipper. We recently emailed Ms. Kenner asking why she thinks she provided us with a destination address when the estimate agreement and bill of lading do not mention a destination address. To date, Ms. Kenner has not replied to that email.

The shipper recently provided us with the final destination address and the items are en route for final delivery. Yesterday, we spoke with Ms. Kenner and provided her with the phone number of the driver so she could stay in close contact with him to arrange for a delivery time.

Accordingly, we respectfully decline your request for an interview.

First Call Movers"

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