A LOAD OF TROUBLE: 10 Investigates price switching by moving companies

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UPDATED: Monday November 18, 2013 11:55 PM

Some Central Ohio moving companies quote customers one price on the phone and then hike up the price after they have their property loaded on moving trucks, a 10 Investigates' investigation has found.

A recording obtained by investigative reporter Paul Aker reveals one company explaining how it's done.

Dia Pryer said it happened to her last spring.  

Pryer said the company quoted her $230 on the phone, but charged her $489.

"I didn't want to pay them," Pryer said.

Pryer complained to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO).

So did Novella Robinson.      

Robinson said the same company quoted her $267 on the phone. But in a formal complaint, Robinson said the company billed her $384 once it had her belongings on its truck.

"I was like, 'woe,'" Robinson said.

Robinson refused to pay more than $267. The mover then explained it would not unload her property and locked it up in storage pods on its property.

According to Ohio law, a mover must release a customer's property if that customer agrees to pay the price quoted on the phone, plus 10 percent.

A letter from the PUCO to the company explained that the company was not allowed to hold property "hostage" based on the quote Robinson claimed she was given.

"(The company's) game is, they get your stuff to the location," Robinson said. "They hype up the price and then tell you, 'you have to pay this price or we're not unloading the truck."

A search of records kept by the Attorney General, PUCO, and Better Business Bureau found that the company was accused of the same practice numerous times since it began business in 2011.   

The Better Business Bureau gave the company an "F" rating.

The company declined an on camera interview. It sent a statement defending its business practices.

"(We) have escalated efforts to eliminate customer complaints....(we) have worked closely with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to ensure complete compliance with all applicable laws and regulations," the company wrote.

Still, 10 Investigates found evidence that suggests that company and others intentionally quote unrealistically low prices.

During a personal move, reporter Paul Aker recorded a crew leader of well-known company explaining how his company gives customers lowball quotes.

On the recording, the crew leader said: "I think a lot of it is our CSRs will book jobs under on purpose so that way they can book more jobs for the day, because we only have a certain amount of trucks that can be available for the day. So that way if they book three four hour jobs instead of 2 six hour jobs, they can get more money that way. Because if the job goes over, they still get paid a percentage of what the job went. "

Another customer complained to the attorney about a different company.

The customer wrote: "The movers stated (their company) routinely will quote a job lower to get business then raise the price depending if they think someone can afford it."

The PUCO declined an on camera interview.

10 Investigates found the PUCO often audits moving companies for compliance. Documents show that the agency has also contacted companies when customers complain. However, the PUCO the records did not show any fines levied against Columbus are companies in the past three years.

The PUCO said that it had fined a Chillicothe company during that time.     

A former head of the PUCO said the utility could be more aggressive.

Henry Eckhart, who ran the PUCO in the 70s, said the companies are taking advantage of lax enforcement.

"They're ripping off the public," Eckhart said.

Eckhart said the PUCO should start fining companies that take advantage of consumers.

"They should try to see if it's a deterrent," Eckart said. "If it's not, (the PUCO) should jerk the certificate. Cancel it. Don't let them continue to operate."

Officials recommend the following 5 tips to keep you from getting ripped off:

1)      Get quote by mover coming to your home

2)      Get it the quote in writing

3)      Realize that movers cannot keep your stuff if they charge more than 10% than what they quoted on the phone

4)      If they try to keep your things, you can lodge a report with the PUCO and the Better Business Bureau

5)      Check with state authorities for complaints about the company before you hire them

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