Ahmed Mohamed paid Toronto-based Automoves.ca $1,250 to ship his Mazda 6 to Edmonton from Ottawa, but the move wound up costing him more than $3,500 because of a dispute between the company and its subcontractor.
The move was supposed to take seven days, but it wasn't until almost two months later that Mohamed got a call from a second Ontario company, Capital Carriers, demanding he pay Capital to get his car back.
The owner of Capital Carriers, Craig Gilchrist, said Automoves hired him to ship the car, but hadn't paid, and he refused to deliver the car until Mohamed paid Capital $1,260.
'It's kind of like my car was held for ransom' - Ahmed Mohamed
The payment had to be made 48 hours in advance of delivery and without Mohamed being able to inspect the vehicle's condition first.
When Mohamed refused, Gilchrist said he would take his car back to Ontario — at Mohamed's expense again — and start charging him storage.
"It's kind of like my car was held for ransom," Mohamed said.
Gilchrist told Mohamed to go after AutoMoves.ca's general manager, Andy Leeds, to settle the dispute on his behalf.
"This guy has my car. He's like, 'either you get the money from Andy or I'm done talking to you,'" Mohamed said.
Police insist it's a civil matter
Mohamed said he called police in Toronto, Ottawa and Edmonton, but every time was told it was a civil matter and that police wouldn't get involved.
Do you have a story tip for Go Public?
"It felt like extortion on one end and fraud on another, and I'm told it's just civil," he said.
Gilchrist told Go Public he had the right to be paid for the work he had done.
"I feel bad for the guy, but why am I working for nothing?" Gilchrist said.
Leeds said he hired Gilchrist on the basis of an "invoice swap," saying Gilchrist owed him money and agreed to haul Mohamed's car to pay the debt. Gilchrist insists he's entitled to be paid.
As for the delay, Gilchrist said he couldn't meet the timeline Automoves gave to Mohamed, because he needed to wait until he had enough cars to fill his truck before leaving Ontario.
"I can't be responsible for what someone says to you," Gilchrist said.
Leeds said the delay isn't his responsibility either.
"We try to assist as much as possible to complete a delivery, but it is out of our control," Leeds said.
Eventually Mohamed paid Gilchrist the $1,260. He also had paid more $1,000 for car rentals, because he was without a vehicle for much longer than he expected.
Both Leeds and Gilchrist say they no longer deal with each other.
Mohamed said Automoves never disclosed it was merely a broker and wouldn't be taking responsibility for delivering his car on time. He said he wouldn't have hired the company if it had.
Assurance of delivery
Initially, the company appeared highly professional in its initial dealings with him, Mohamed said.
Automoves quoted him $1,250 to move the Mazda using a nine-car carrier with delivery to Edmonton within six to seven days.
When the pickup was delayed, Leeds emailed Mohamed to assure him the delivery date would not change and even offered to compensate him for having to rent a car.
"We take care of our customers," Leeds wrote.
But once the vehicle was picked up and he had paid Automoves the money, Mohamed said the company stopped returning his calls.
He later learned that Automoves has no car moving equipment of its own and had hired Capital to do the job.
'Big-time transportation company'
Mohamed said Leeds never disclosed that it wasn't a real moving company.
"The way they made it seem was that they were a big-time transportation company," Mohamed said.
Leeds told Go Public his company's website and Mohamed's invoice clearly show that he is a broker.
What the website actually says is: "Automoves provides access to the largest car carrier network in Canada. Reputable car shipping agents will transport your vehicle anywhere in Canada — on time and most competitive rates."
None of the invoices or email contracts provided by Leeds, Gilchrist or Mohamed explicitly state Automoves is a broker only.
Leeds provided Go Public with Automoves's terms of service, but they don't explicitly declare the company's broker-only status either. The document does state that Automoves will act as the owner's agent in dealing with transport carriers and that it will not be held responsible for their performance.
Mohamed says he was never shown the terms of service.
Car rental bills
The terms of service also state: "Automoves will not honor any rental accrual by the Owner/Shipper under any circumstances," despite Leeds's written offer to Mohamed to pay for exactly that."
Leeds said he has submitted Mohamed's car rental bills to his insurance company, but couldn't say if Mohamed would be reimbursed.
Leeds said he would be also be willing to submit an insurance claim for the money Mohamed paid him, provided Mohamed could get Gilchrist to provide him a separate invoice for the delivery.
Mohamed has done that but says he hasn't heard back from Leeds.
Because both Automoves and Capital Carriers are Ontario companies, that province's consumer protection office can investigate possible breaches of consumer protection legislation.
"Obviously this is a terrible situation," said Anne-Marie Flanagan, spokeswoman for Consumer Protection Ontario.
Speaking generally, Flanagan said holding a person's property for extra payment is considered an unfair practice under the Ontario Consumer Protection Act.
Gilchrist denies breaking the law, saying he wasn't charging an extra payment, only what he was owed.
"I asked to be paid for my services," he said.
Gilchrist said the "Mercantile Act" entitled him to keep Mohamed's car until he was paid.
The maximum penalties for breaking the Ontario Consumer Protection Act is a $250,000 fine for companies, and $50,000 for individuals and or jail for up to two years less a day.
However, Flanagan says in most cases the government works to get restitution without going to court.
Mohamed said he's filed a complaint and is still hoping to get some of his money back.
But he said that's not why he called Go Public.
"I can only imagine how many people they've done this to; $1,250 — you do that to 10 people, that's twelve grand. The only reason I called you guys is because he could be doing this to single mothers."
Go Public has not received other complaints from customers of the two companies.
In the meantime, Mohammed has received a parking ticket in the mail.
Weeks after his Mazda was picked up from Ottawa and supposedly en route to Edmonton, someone was driving it without his permission, just 115 kilometres away in Brockville, Ont.
Gilchrist told Go Public he has since apologized to Mohamed for the ticket and disciplined an employee as a result.