Criminals posing as movers are ripping off Canadian consumers, says the head of the association that represents moving companies.

John Levi of the Canadian Association of Movers has written to provincial attorneys general, along with transportation, consumer affairs and finance ministers in all 10 provinces calling for coordinated action to protect consumers from theft, fraud and threats.

In the letter, Levi says there are plenty of laws to protect consumers  from the criminal code, to tax laws, to highways acts  but a lack of coordinated enforcement means rogue movers are flourishing.

'I’ve seen electronics disappear, but seldom anything as inconsequential as socks or shirts.”'-John Levi, Canadian Association of Movers

“There are no barriers to entry and criminals tend to gravitate to our industry,” Levi said.

The association’s call comes amid a multi-year rise in complaints against moving companies.

Several consumers contacted Go Public to complain their property took weeks, even months longer to arrive than promised, arrived damaged, or didn’t arrive at all.

Movers demand cash beyond agreed price

Some movers refused to unload property until they were paid extra in cash.

Protect yourself

  • Contact BBB and Canadian Association of Movers to assess companies
  • Get at least three estimates in writing by someone who has inspected the items
  • Phone estimates should include thorough discussion about what's in each room and if the cost covers unpacking, storage and claims settlement
  • Ensure movers are aware of special items or other impediments that could affect estimate
  • Move valuables such as jewellery or artwork yourself
  • Before signing contract, check to see if company is bonded and insured.
  • Ensure you have moving insurance with replacement value protection not depreciated value.
  • Find out if mover is certified by WCB to avoid paying for injured employees.
  • Take photos of your possessions

Danielle Lavergne and her daughter Sylvie Legare contacted CBC for help finding Lavergne’s belongings which she’d last seen being loaded on a moving truck 10 weeks previously.

In September 2013, after her husband had died, Lavergne wanted to move from Niagara Falls, Ont., to be near her daughter in Grande Prairie, Alta.

Legare​ said that days after her father’s funeral she went online and sought several quotes for her mother’s move.

She chose J&J Moving and Auto Transport because their bid was lowest and promised delivery within three weeks. The company required payment in full by direct deposit, internet transfer or credit card.

By November she said she couldn’t get a straight answer from J&J as to where her mother’s property had gone, only a string of excuses and non-returned phone calls.

“It’s everything I own,” Lavergne said. “My furniture, my lifetime of souvenirs, my jewellery, everything.”

“I’m paying rent on an empty house. I don’t have towels to take a shower. I left with summer capri pants. Now it’s winter and I have to go buy boots and gloves and a coat, everything that I need.”

Legare complained to police and was told it was a civil matter. Lavergne’s property eventually arrived on Dec. 6th.

Other callers to Go Public fared far worse.

Truck drives off without unloading

Multi-City Moving quoted Jamie Petrin and Quincy Hall $3,200 to move them from Halifax to Edmonton.  

After their property was taken away, Multi City told them their goods weighed almost 70% more than the estimated weight and that the new price would be $5,036.

“As soon as they had our stuff in the truck it was all downhill,” Hall said.

A different company, Canada Wide Moving Services, arrived with the furniture.

Hall balked at paying the extra money, and Go Public watched as the truck drove away without unloading anything.

Hall and Petrin eventually paid $5,120 to get their possessions released , but say some of their property is damaged or missing.

“There were things that didn’t belong to us inside boxes we had packed so obviously they were opening the boxes,” Petrin said.

Hall and Petrin believe at least four different companies handled their goods, and much of the documentation is missing or illegible making it nearly impossible to tell what went wrong and who was responsible.

Amare Ghebreberhan chose Countrywide Van Lines for his move from Kitchener, Ont, to Edmonton in August.

Almost five months later, he and his three teenage children were still sleeping on air mattresses in a nearly-empty apartment, his furniture held hostage in a dispute between two other companies.

In July 2013 Countrywide’s owner went to Ghebreberhan’s home and gave him a written quote.

Countrywide estimated the weight of his belongings at 2,000 pounds. The cost of the move would be less than $1,700, subject to verification at a commercial truck scale.

They agreed moving day would be Aug. 20th, and that Ghebreberhan would pay a deposit of $415 with the balance to be paid on delivery in Edmonton in about 10-14 days.

Countrywide then sub-contracted the move to Reliance Van Lines, owned by Sanjeev (Sean) Singh, who also operates a two Small Men With Big Hearts franchise in Greater Toronto.

After loading the truck Singh emailed Ghebreberhan to say the actual weight was in fact more than 3,500 pounds and that the total bill would now be $2,927.

Emails and texts provided by Ghebreberhan show that over the next several weeks Singh first asked for payment of half the amount, later the full amount, or the goods would not be shipped leaving Ghebreberhan responsible for paying further storage and late payment charges.

In an email to Ghebreberhan and Singh in August, Countrywide denied agreeing to payment on delivery even though “Balance COD” and “Balance Edmntn” (sic) is written on the estimate.

Singh, who claimed Ghebreberhan had incurred even more costs by changing the delivery date, said he had “lost too much money,” and demanded an immediate email transfer of the full amount “no questions asked.”

Ghebreberhan paid the full amount on Aug. 30th,  but September and October came and went with no delivery, only a string of excuses.

'A lot of lies,' customer says

“He told me one day the stuff is in B.C.,  one day the truck is in Winnipeg,”  Ghebreberhan said. “One day the stuff is coming (in three days). It’s a lot of lies.”

In November, Ghebreberhan received three calls from an unidentified man saying his property was in Calgary and that he would have to pay even more money.

Ghebreberhan went to Edmonton police, who said they told him it was a civil, not criminal matter, and advised him not to pay.

On Jan. 3, 2014, Senol Kaya, owner of Pacific 2 Atlantic Van Lines, told Go Public it was he who called Ghebreberhan asking for more money.

Kaya said Singh had contracted him to move Ghebreberhan’s property from Ontario and collect $1,500 upon delivery.

Kaya said he’d already incurred storage charges because the address he was given was wrong and because Ghebreberhan was refusing to pay.

He said he would be disposing of Ghebreberhan’s property if he wasn’t paid by the end of the day.

Kaya and Singh each told Go Public he was owed money by the other man.

Ghebreberhan finally received his goods on Jan. 7th after Countrywide paid Kaya $1,000.

In a text message to Go Public Countrywide owner Lee Nelson said “I simply want this done with.”

In the meantime Ghebreberhan had had to buy new clothes for the family, kitchen utensils and dishes and furniture.

When his property from Ontario was finally delivered, he said some of it was damaged or missing.

No intention of delivering on time

Levi said the way discount movers operate makes them difficult to pin down.

He says the first company usually acts as a broker and doesn’t actually carry out the move.

“Your move is sold (to another company) and then it’s very difficult to find out who you are actually dealing with, “ Levi said.

“They let the other company worry about how to execute the move and how to extort more money from the consumer.”

He says many companies have no intention of delivering in the time promised and roll out a litany of excuses until it’s profitable for them to make the delivery.

“They probably have a book of excuses,” he said.

“And when it’s convenient for them - i.e. when they have a full load going between A and B - then they’ll make the delivery. They don’t care about the delays.”

Unhappy customers who complain to the police are usually told it’s not a criminal matter, but Levi said the industry is riddled with theft, fraud and even extortion.

“One of our very real concerns here is …(that) often what (police) perceive to be a civil matter is a criminal matter.

“Let’s just say I’ve never seen a box of socks disappear. I’ve seen electronics disappear, but seldom anything as inconsequential as socks or shirts.”