Hands Tied On Moving Scams

Moving, Company, Scam, Truck, Money, Dollar

It's like watching a robbery in progress, reports CBS News Correspondent Maureen Maher.

"Look at how I've been living for a month," complained Bridget Fletcher. "No crib for my baby, no bed to sleep in, no couch to sit on, no television, no dining room table..."

"This is not my problem!" replied the mover.

Bridget Fletcher says he's a thief.

"I think they're taking off - Oh my God, they're taking off with my stuff!" she said.

"Right here, I would have my dining room set," said Rita Oulette.

She and husband Glenn also say they were ripped off by a moving company — Elite Van Lines — when the cost of their move skyrocketed from $1,500 to $4,300.

"I wouldn't want to call it like feeling raped, but you kind of feel that rage," said Glenn Oulette.

Police say both families got caught in a nationwide moving scam. Companies quote one price, then hike up the final costs by 25, 50, even 500 percent. The companies refuse to deliver until the customer comes up with the cash.

In the Fletchers case, the cops caught up with Oshri Cohen and Juan Miguel Aita Garcia, charging both with theft for increasing the cost of the Fletchers' move from $1,700 to $3,500.

However, both men are part of a much larger FBI investigation into questionable moving companies, many of which are run by foreign nationals.

Queens, New York, District Attorney Richard Brown recently busted two Israelis, Ronit Mantoza and her husband Daniel, and Palestinian immigrant Morad Alfar, after receiving hundreds of complaints.

The trio allegedly was running five different moving and storage companies out of the same address, complete with coupons and promises of "no hidden costs."

"One of the things that we are insistent upon...is that these people never go into business again," Brown said.

But two weeks after her arrest, Brown's office got calls that Ronit Mantoza was shaking down customers for more money again.

"There's no question that there is a need for tighter regulation on the federal level and there's only so much we as prosecutors can do," said Brown.

The Queens District Attorney blames it on the Department of Transportation, which oversees an industry that has few regulations and little if any enforcement.

The D.O.T. declined to be interviewed by CBS News, but issued this statement:

"Although consumer-related issues cannot be our primary focus, we are doing what is practicable, given the agency's strained resources."

Eventually, Fletcher got her belongings back.

"This is the kind of stuff that kills you, the baby pictures that you can't replace," she said.

After seven months, the Oulettes are still waiting.

"Are you worried you may never get it back?" Maher asked

"Yes, yes only because..." said Rita.

"...So many other people haven't," finished Glenn.

And unless the laws change and are enforced, the Oulettes and thousands of other like them, may never see their prized possessions again.

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