Moving company holds possessions hostage of family during move from Quebec to St. Stephen

St. Stephen – What would you do if you hired a moving company to assist with your cross country move, and once your possessions were on the moving truck were told the weight of your items exceeded the total you were quoted for, and you wouldn’t be able to access your belongings until you paid a much higher price than originally agreed upon? That is exactly what happened to Merwie Garzon, who recently came to St. Stephen from Quebec to make a new life for herself and her two teenage children.

Garzon said she began researching moving companies several months ago, comparing rates and reading reviews. One company, Move Me Again Transportation Inc., which operates out of Toronto, Ontario, had a very competitive quote, and after reading positive reviews, Garzon chose to deal with them.

They exchanged several emails, and Garzon was given a price per pound, up to 6,000 pounds, and another price for additional pounds after that. Garzon thought she had gotten a decent deal, and agreed to work with this company. That’s when the trouble started.

“They called me two days before the move and said they had to come a day early,” said Garzon. “When you’re moving, losing 24 hours is a big deal. Then the day came for our move. The night before the move, I hardly slept at all because I was busy packing. They were supposed to get there at 4 in the afternoon. They ended up showing up and starting the move at 10 p.m. At this point, we’re all exhausted. At two o’clock in the morning they were finally done.”

This should have been a huge red flag for Garzon, but she still thought everything was on the up and up, and told the crew she would follow them to the scale. Once her possessions were loaded onto the truck, she was told there is no scale, and that her possessions weighed 14,000 pounds instead of 6,000, even though they hadn’t weighed anything.

“I’d been working on an estimate of 6,000. I got rid of everything that was heavy so we’d be under 6,000 pounds. We had no furniture, no appliances. I was sure we were in that ballpark. I said no, that’s not the deal. He wanted me to sign this paper, and I kept refusing. They said ‘just sign the damned paper. You can work it out with the office tomorrow. We can’t leave with your stuff without you signing the paper’. I said, ‘it says 14,000 pounds and that’s not what I have’. They said ‘it doesn’t matter, you can still get your stuff weighed tomorrow. Just call the office’.”

Garzon said she signed the paper, and then went to her brother’s home to sleep for a few hours. The following morning, she called the company to discuss the issue, and was told by the representative she had been dealing with it was now out of her hands, and Garzon would have to deal with the management team.

“I spent the next week calling and emailing the management team,” said Garzon. “For a week I heard nothing. I thought my stuff was gone, because I’m not even hearing back from them. They finally called me a week later, and said ‘you owe us $7,000 for your 14,000 pounds’, and I said ‘no I do not, because my stuff still hasn’t been weighed. Why don’t you send the truck here, and I’ll follow it to the weigh station, as outlined in writing’.

“They just flat out refused. They called me many times, and got more and more threatening on the phone. At one point, someone from the company said they were just going to dump our stuff. They said, ‘we’re not going to keep your stuff in storage. If you’re not going to pay for it, we’re not going to ship it to you’.”

At this point, Garzon said she was in tears. She had just moved her family to a new province, where they knew no one, and had no support system. They were living in an empty house with none of their possessions except for what was in their suitcases, and they were sleeping on inflatable beds.

“I was feeling like the worst mom in the world. It’s a big adjustment for kids, and they were in quarantine without any of their things. Not even beds.”

Garzon said she decided to dig further into company reviews, and ended up finding a Facebook page that is a support group for others who have had similar experiences with the same moving company. She joined the group, and through them was able to contact attorney Rocco G. Scocco, who is representing others who are facing the same issues.

“I’ve discovered since this odyssey started that this is really common in Canada,” said Garzon. “I talked to my lawyer and said I thought consumers are protected in Canada. He said for most things we are, but when it comes to moving, it happens all the time apparently. There are three lawsuits that I know of taking place against this company right now, and there’s a potential class action suit in Quebec.

“In order to get my stuff back, they’re asking me to sign a full release saying I won’t pursue them. Basically, they hold your stuff hostage. You don’t have any of your things, but you can’t pursue them.”

Scocco, who has been handling the case for Garzon and other clients, said it is unfortunate some moving companies are able to operate outside of the law, and it speaks volumes about the justice system in Canada, because there is no straightforward way to hold moving companies accountable.

“This happens a lot in Canada,” said Scocco. “The government should see this as a sign that measures need to be taken to protect the consumer because moving companies who use unfair practices do not feel threatened by the law, and they seem to be operating unencumbered.”

Nancy Irvine, president of the Canadian Association of Movers (CAM), said similar moving scams have been taking place around Canada since the mid-80s. She said these companies have a “very sophisticated process”, because they know there are no regulations governing this industry.

“They have become very sophisticated, and are very good at it,” said Irvine. “When you call up, you get this wonderful sounding person, very friendly, very helpful, very engaging. The minute it goes up the creek, they disappear and you can’t get hold of anybody and you can’t get your stuff.”

Irvine said there is little recourse for consumers who have been taken in by similar scams, and all her association can do is try to educate the public and let them know they must do their due diligence when hiring a moving company. She added that many moving companies, even those who are not members of the CAM, are honest and law-abiding. But, there are also many which are not – and these are the companies to beware of.

“They work under an operational name for a year, get through a season, and then that name disappears and they come up as a different operation the next year,” said Irvine.

“I’ve been trying to explain to people that the reviews are a whole racket in itself. You’ve got to really know who your mover is. They’re taking everything you own and disappearing with it. There’s a lot of trust that’s required in all of this.”

Irvine said that personally, she would like to see moving companies be required to have licenses and to have to adhere to specific regulations that need to be put in place. These regulations would guarantee that written contracts be honored, with a guarantee of being within 10 percent of the weight quoted. Everything needs to be in writing, with all items to be moved being listed in that contract. She also said the best deal may end up being the worst deal.

“Don’t look for the best deal. In the end, it’s going to cost more, guaranteed,” said Irvine.

In the end, Garzon was able to get her possessions delivered to her at a cost of $1,800 more than originally quoted. She said the company began negotiating with her, but still refused to weigh the items. Finally, she simply told them she had X amount of dollars, and that was all she could pay. This price was agreed upon, and 19 days later, everything arrived safely to her new home.

Garzon wants to warn others to be very cautious when hiring a moving company. She said it is important to ask questions before hiring any company, and even more important to get answers in writing. Ask if there are any hidden costs, and if anything else is going to be added to the bill outside of the original agreement. Even with the answers in writing, it is still a gamble.

“I really thought I was careful, because I asked so many questions before hiring this company, and I got answers in writing,” said Garzon. “I asked are there any hidden costs, is anything else going to be added to my bill. I got answers in writing, but they just didn’t respect any of the terms that we had agreed upon. I thought I was being careful. Be ultra-careful.”

The Saint Croix Courier contacted Move Me Again Transportation Inc. for comment, but did not receive a response.

sarigreen@stcroixcourier.ca