Court Order Shuts Down Brooklyn Moving Companies Accused Of Bilking Hundreds Of Consumers
Attorney General Spitzer and State Transportation Commissioner Joseph Boardman today announced that the state has obtained a temporary restraining order shutting down four illegal moving companies based in Brooklyn that have bilked hundreds of consumers out of tens of thousands of dollars.
A lawsuit filed jointly by Spitzer and Boardman charges The Best American Movers Corp., three other corporations and four officers of the respective companies, with false advertising, fraud and deceptive and illegal practices. The suit further alleges that the defendants violated a dozen state laws and regulations governing the operation of moving companies. A temporary restraining order, signed by Supreme Court Justice Richard Braun, prohibits the defendants from doing business pending a hearing on December 13.
The companies advertised in the yellow pages, newspapers and flyers offering skilled, licensed, and insured moving services at low cost. According to consumers, the companies routinely provided low-ball cost estimates, and then padded bills with significant and undisclosed fees. In many cases, the movers doubled, tripled or even quadrupled the cost of the move after the consumer's goods were loaded onto moving vans. In addition, the movers insisted on payment in cash, despite earlier representations in the company's advertising that credit cards or checks would be accepted. Customers who were unable or unwilling to pay cash for the move were told that their possessions would be put in storage, with extra daily charges, unless they paid in full on the spot. Often, goods were damaged by the movers.
Consumers who sought reimbursement for damages caused by the movers were unable to do so because the companies had no insurance. Those who sued the movers and won judgments were never paid.
"Hundreds of New Yorkers have been exploited and abused by these defendants ," Spitzer said. "Moving is a difficult experience under the best of circumstances, and consumers who entrusted their household goods to these moving companies often found their possessions damaged or held hostage and faced vastly inflated moving expenses. My office will continue to work with the Department of Transportation to protect New Yorkers from unscrupulous operators who break the law."
Attorney General's office and the DOT, we can continue to protect New Yorkers from this type of exploitation. Moving should be a positive experience, not one that causes worry and wastes consumer dollars."
Named in the lawsuit are four moving companies; The Best American Movers, Corp., A&M Affordable Movers, Inc., Atlantis Movers, Inc., and AAAA Allright Moving, Inc. and three individuals, Nikolai Yakovlev, Gleb Larin and Michael Ferrara. Other names used by the defendants include American Movers, AAA Best American Movers, Best Quality Moving, Affordable Movers, and A&M Affordable.
The lawsuit seeks to prevent the defendants from operating any unlicensed moving business, and seeks restitution for all consumers damaged by the defendants' actions as well as civil penalties.
Attorney General Spitzer urges consumers to exercise caution when hiring any moving company. Get references and check them thoroughly. Be wary of estimates that are significantly below quotes from the competition. All movers should be prepared to present state and/or federal license numbers. Check these numbers with the DOT (1-800-786-5368). For more information, consumers can contact the AG's consumer hotline at (800) 771-7755 or visit the Attorney General's website at www.oag.state.us.
The case is being handled for the Attorney General by Assistant Attorney General Hillary Weisman of the Bureau of Consumer Frauds and Protection and for Commissioner Boardman by Robert A. Rybak.
- Find out if a mover is licensed by the state Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) for moves wholly within New York, and by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for moves between New York and another state. Although unlicensed movers may be cheaper than licensed movers, licensed movers must meet various insurance, safety and financial standards. Don't take unnecessary risks by using a mover who won't give you an address, telephone number or license number.
- Before selecting a mover, know and understand your rights. If you are moving entirely within New York, ask the New York State Department of Transportation for its Summary of Information for Shippers of Household Goods. If you are moving out of New York, obtain a copy of Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move from the United States Department of Transportation.
- Check out the mover. For information about an intrastate mover, contact NYSDOT at 1-800-786-5368. In addition, call the Better Business Bureau at 212-533-6200 (New York City area) and 1-800-828-5000 (elsewhere in the State).
- Get estimates from different movers based on a physical inspection of your home or apartment. Be wary of any estimate that is far less than the figures offered by other movers. This could be a "low-ball" bid that will be hiked up at the time of your move.
- Before anything is moved, make sure the mover gives you a written "Order for Service" which sets forth the probable cost of the move and how much you will have to pay to have your property unloaded if the actual cost exceeds the estimate. In order to have your goods released after an intrastate move, you will generally not have to pay more than the original estimate plus 25% in the case of hourly-rated moves, or plus 10% in the case of a weight-rated move. You will have 15 days after delivery to pay the balance on intrastate moves. For moves between two states that are billed by weight, the maximum payment due on moving day is 10% above the estimate and any balance must be deferred for 30 days after delivery (no such interstate rule applies for hourly-rated moves).
- Read the bill of lading carefully. The bill of lading is a formal contract. Before you sign it, make sure you understand whether the cost of the move is based on the time it takes to do the job, the weight of your goods or whether it is fixed in advance in a written binding estimate. (Remember, you won't know the exact cost of an hourly-rated or weight-based move until the shipment is delivered or weighed). Never sign forms that have blank sections to be filled in later by the mover.
- Make sure you understand the different levels of protection available for your belongings and the limitations on the mover's liability. Before you sign the bill of lading, ask yourself whether you want basic, intermediate or maximum coverage for your goods. Expensive or valuable articles should be separately listed for their full value. (Remember, if you want the maximum protection, you must specify the dollar amount in the valuation section of the bill of lading).
- File all claims promptly and in writing with the mover. Keep a copy of your letters, payment records and contract documents in case you have a problem with your move.
- If your claim is not resolved, file a complaint with the NYS Department of Transportation. You may also request arbitration through the mover's dispute resolution program, or you may consult with a private attorney for other assistance.
To obtain more information on movers or if you have a problem with a mover, please contact: New York State Department of Transportation: (800) 786-5368 or the Better Business Bureau: (212) 533-6200 in the New York City area, or (800) 828-5000 elsewhere in the state.