Texas cracks down on moving scams

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by BYRON HARRIS

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WFAA

Posted on July 10, 2011 at 10:00 PM

Updated Monday, Jul 11 at 11:07 PM

NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES

Amy Van Vleck of Rockwall and Puneet Kukkar, 200 miles away in Austin, have something in common. They've both been victimized by the same furniture rustler.

Kukkar and Van Vleck responded to an ad for movers they found on the Craigslist Web site. Each made a verbal agreement — in Kukkar's case to move a bedroom of furniture for $200.

The movers loaded up the furniture, convinced him to sign a written contract, and once they got it, demanded $1,300 in cash.

He'd been rustled.

Kukkar talked them down to $900 in cash, but once the movers had it, "They dumped the furniture on the driveway," Kukkar said. "I was kind of scared he might shoot us."

The rustler, Kukkar said, was the same man he saw in a News 8 story a few weeks earlier who had allegedly victimized Amy Van Vleck in Rockwall. Once the rustler's crew had Van Vleck's houseful of furniture loaded in their truck, they demanded $3,700 in cash.

"These people don't have addresses," said Bill Harbeson, a spokesman nfor the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles Enforcement Division. "We don't know where to find them."

But Harbeson is trying to put some backbone in the way the state goes after furniture rustlers. His agency is stiffening penalties and beefing up public education.

His first message to consumers: Confirm the mover that you're using is licensed by the state. He says Texans can now use new online tools the DMV has established to check out moving companies.

Metro Movers — which both Kukkar and Van Vleck used — has numerous complaints on the DMV Web site.

But Harbeson is also trying to educate local police departments that they have a role in illegal moving, too.

Police are often called when a mover holds goods hostage. Typically, if officers see a contract between the mover and a customer, they assume the issue is a civil matter.

But Harbeson wants police to know that unlicensed movers are committing a crime and can be arrested. "You will see violations of the law that we will enforce," he said.

Harbeson emphasizes that consumers should take action before moving to protect themselves. He suggests this checklist:

  • Get a written contract before the move
  • Check that the company is insured. The driver will have proof of insurance
  • Make sure the driver has a commercial drivers license.
  • Confirm that the company is licensed by the state.
  • Make sure the mover's name is on the truck, along with the company's license number.

In both Van Vleck's and Kukkar's cases, they made phone contract and a verbal agreement with one mover, and another one showed up.

E-mail bharris@wfaa.com

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