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Moving? How to protect against "hostage load"

Moving companies accused of holding belonging... 03:01

It may be too late for some, but the government is launching a "Protect Your Move" campaign to help people avoid falling victim to what's known as "hostage load," reports CBS News correspondent Kris Van Cleave.

The government says 36 million people move every year, and one in 10 will report that the moving company is holding their furniture hostage, demanding more money before delivering it.

It happened to Clarisse O'Connell.

It hasn't been easy getting settled in her new home, after she says her move from California to Texas turned into a nightmare.

"I'm still missing a significant amount of our items, and the majority of what I own is damaged or missing or broken," she said. "I don't even know what to do in order to get the things back that we lost. At this point we're either really living without, or we're purchasing new."

O'Connell said after receiving an estimate, when her moving day came, the company raised the price by more than $4,600 and ultimately delivered her family's belongings weeks late. Many items were damaged, and she says nearly two dozen boxes are missing.

"It's devastating, and it's ongoing because as our life progresses there are things that we find every single day that aren't here that we know we'll never get back," O'Connell said.

O'Connell filed a complaint with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

The agency has received nearly 6,000 complaints about moving companies in the last two years -- more than 16 per day. Florida leads the nation in complaints followed by California, New Jersey, New York and Texas.

"Moving fraud is a really big problem," FMCSA deputy administrator Daphne Jefferson said.

She said it's critical for consumers to do their homework.

"They need to make sure they've got the best information, understand their rights and also the responsibilities of the movers," Jefferson said.

To help consumers do that, the agency is launching a new campaign aimed at educating people before they move.

"It's embarrassing, I'm an educated adult. I picked the wrong organization, and I didn't do enough homework, and if anybody can hear my story and learn from it, and it doesn't happen to them, I'm embarrassed, but happy to share," O'Connell said.

Her complaint did ultimately result in the moving company agreeing to refund the $4,600 it added to her moving bill. The comapany she used denies any wrongdoing.

As part of the new campaign, the Department of Transportation launched a website that allows you to check complaints. The Better Business Bureau is another good resource.

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