I-TEAM: What happens if your moving company holds your priceless items 'hostage'?

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Monday, Sept. 9, 2019
News 12 at 6 O’Clock/NBC at 7

The Clevengers spent over $2,500 to begin the process of moving their priceless items from Wisconsin to Georgia. (Source: WRDW)

AUGUSTA, GA (WRDW/WAGT) – Our I-Team introduced you to the Clevengers from Lincolnton a few weeks ago. They say a moving company called Spirit Van Lines held nearly everything they owned hostage – asking for nearly $12,000 more than the price they quoted.

We managed to reunite them with their things, but in the process, we discovered this is happening to scores of others. Believe it or not, there are not many options to hold companies accountable.

Carl and Lorraine Clevenger are both veterans by way of the Air Force and the Army, so moving is nothing new for them.

"I built bombs for 12 ½ years, and then I went into logistics,” Carl said. “I moved people around with trucks and stuff. I should've known a little bit about moving people. I was in mobility.”

Which is why Carl is in disbelief this could happen to him of all people.

“That's why I chose a company in Georgia, because if they are in Georgia and we are Georgia we should be able to work out a deal,” Carl said.

We uncovered a pattern of problems with Spirit Van Lines -- an F rating with the Better Business Bureau, no license to carry goods, drivers without commercial driver’s licenses, and 55 complaints for last year alone.

Those complaints included: “the company is asking for double”, “they are holding goods hostage”, and "Carrier is requesting $11,000 paid in full before they'll deliver. At no point was the caller advised of the increase in cost."

Sound familiar?

“The next thing I heard, ‘We want $14,000 some dollars to move your stuff,’” Carl said. “I said, ‘You want what?’”

We also found this same company changed their name to “Moving Services” and that name is not registered with the Georgia Department of Transportation at all.

It’s a practice that’s not unheard of, at least according to Scott Michael, the president of the Moving and Storage Association.

“We do see a lot of companies, they get a bad reputation with one name and they simply shed their skin and turn into a different company,” Michael said.

“But it's really easy to get a license, so it's easy to take the resources already in place and operate under a different name.”

These companies know you would pay just about anything to see your grandkids' pictures again. Some call it a ransom.

“It is hard to find a good solution to that,” Michael admitted. “The local authorities often aren't willing to get involved in that. The federal government doesn't have a lot of resources to be able to do anything.”

So there’s not a lot of federal “teeth” to punish the rule breakers -- chameleon companies changing names and law enforcement not usually willing to get involved.

Great. So, what should you do?

“Using a mover that's in your actual community, you can look to see if they have an actual facility, you can drive by to see if there's something there,” Michael said. “That they're not operating out of their house or out of a PO Box.”

Also, check their rating with the BBB, check to see if their license is active, and do your research on the front end so you really know who you're dealing with.

If you go to ProtectYourMove.org, there's a great check list to help you avoid falling victim.

As for the Clevengers, they have a happy ending, but an expensive lesson.

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