Avoiding A Mover Who's A Shaker

Moving can be one of the most stressful times a family can go through. It's scary, tiring, and expensive, not to mention potentially hazardous. If you're not careful you could lose everything, as CBS News Correspondent Bob Orr reports.

It happened to Chuck Sage when he moved to Florida from New York City.

"We had no clothes, no furniture, no nothing," Chuck remembers.

He says the movers had boxed up his entire house and loaded it on the van, then suddenly hiked his bill by several thousand dollars and threatened to hold it all hostage unless he paid up.

In New York City, a moving company was charged with making last-minute, exorbitant price hikes, and then refusing to turn over people's belongings unless their demands were met.

Complaints are highest in Florida and New York but it happens all over the country. Since 1995, when the government downsized itself out of the business of regulating the industry, the number of people falling victim to these alleged scam artists has skyrocketed. There is no national estimate of losses, however.

One company in Florida is accused of bilking nearly $4 million out of its customers.

And in New York City another company reportedly got away with $80,000 before it was caught.

"Perhaps many times people just don't have the time or the inclination to really research who they're dealing with," says moving company salesman Ben Frakes. "They just want to ... be on to other things and get the moving part of it out of the way."

Take Jerry Hudis, for instance. He is one of those people who didn't research his movers before they came to move him halfway across the country to Illinois.

"We didn't go to anyone else 'cause I'm really lazy. And it sounded, you know, reasonable and it was close to what I guessed," says Hudis.

Hudis was lucky however, as his first call was to a company his friends and realtor had recommended, and the move went well.

But getting recommendations is only one of the things smart consumers are urged to do for a safe move. Residents should also have the mover walk through the house to estimate the total moving cost. Never trust an over-the-phone estimate. And, check with the Better Business Bureau for any complaints against the movers.

Lawmakers are looking at ways to help protect consumers but the moving industry is skeptical. A few rotten apples, the industry argues, is not enough to warrant government regulation of the $7 billion annual business.

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    David Hancock is a home page editor for CBSNews.com.