Several moving companies operating in Montreal that are tied to the same phone number are offering astoundingly cheap moving rates on online classifieds websites.

The only problem is, it’s too good to be true.

It’s a painful realization for at least two Montrealers who recently moved.

Ferhan Patel hired a mover at the last minute via the website Kijiji to help him move between two addresses on the same street. Having already moved most of the small items himself, he just needed help with the larger pieces of furniture and the appliances.

'I quickly called the guy up I was dealing with. I go, "This is not what we agreed to on the phone,"' - Ferhan Patel

“[The ad] said family-owned business, been in business for about 10 years, you can get a truck and two movers for $50 an hour. I thought that was reasonable. My move would only take three, four hours max, so I thought out of pocket I would be paying — plus their transport fee — out of pocket, $200 for my move,” Patel told CBC News.

He called the company and booked a date. The man who answered said the rate was actually $60 an hour, but that he would give Patel the “old” rate of $50 because that is what Patel saw online.

‘Contract made no sense’

On moving day, the movers showed up on time and moved his refrigerator before asking him for a $300 deposit. Patel managed to haggle them down to a $200 deposit.

Back at the apartment, he said, “I gave them a deposit of $200, and then they pulled out the contract paperwork.”

The contract was full of terms and conditions Patel had not been made aware of at the time he hired the moving company. It was $50 a mover per hour, not $50 for both as had been quoted on the phone. Then there were the additional fees for each flight of stairs involved in the move, for appliances, for items over 75 pounds, plus stipulations that the amount in full would need to be collected in cash only  after the loading was done. All that, along with taxes and a 15 per cent service fee for insurance.

Patel said the contract made no sense.

“Initially on the phone it was $50 for two movers for the hour. On the contract they broke it down to $50 per mover, so it was double the cost right there,” Patel said. “I quickly called the guy up I was dealing with. I go, ‘This is not what we agreed to on the phone.’”

He said he didn’t get better answers on the phone, so he told the movers to leave. By then, he had already paid $200 to move his fridge 10 minutes away. He moved the remainder of his belongings himself.

Terms and conditions

These are the terms and conditions of the contract that Russell signed. (Jay Turnbull/CBC)

Too cheap to be true

The scenario is familiar to Claire Russell. She and Patel didn’t know each other before they both got taken for a ride by the same company, but they connected when Russell put up an ad on Kijiji warning people about the moving scam.

Kijiji took her ad down, telling Russell it was against company policy to put up scam warnings.

Russell did not fare as well as Patel. She ended up paying $1,050 for a move she initially thought would cost her around $400.

She said she originally planned to move with the help of friends, but when her friends cancelled at the last minute, she took to Kijiji out of desperation.

'I don’t care if I have to unload my stuff, I just want to extricate myself from this.' - Claire Russell

“I’d never heard of any kind of moving scam or anything. It was totally not on my radar to be careful, but I was in a hurry,” Russell said.

She said the $45 an hour advertised online seemed “crazy cheap.” Her first clue that it would not be as inexpensive as she thought came when she called, and they told her it was actually $55 an hour.

She agreed, figuring it was still a steal.

When the movers arrived and began loading the truck, they told her they would need a deposit of $350. She handed over the $350 after being assured by the company that she would be given a receipt.

Unfortunately for Russell, the receipt came with a bill totalling $1,300 and a contract she signed under duress her stuff was already in the truck.

She managed to negotiate the price down to $1,050 when all was said and done. She said she also felt uncomfortable when one of the movers began hitting on her. At that point, she told CBC News all she could think of was, “I don’t care if I have to unload my stuff, I just want to extricate myself from this.”

How consumers can protect themselves

CBC News called the moving company several times over two days, but the owner was not available to speak. The person who answered the phone said he had personally worked for the company for three months as a mover. 

He refused to answer questions about whether the trucks were owned by the company or whether they were rented. 

He also said the contract was always provided to clients before the truck was loaded. 

Jim Carney, president and CEO of Rawlinson Moving and Storage and a board member of the Canadian Association of Movers, said moving scams are not uncommon.

Carney said there are a number of companies offering moving services online, but it often boils down to the same group of individuals operating under many different company names. He calls them “rogue” movers.

He said that even if people feel pressured to hire movers due to time constraints, it’s important to take the time to do a little online sleuthing before signing on. He said searching for reviews of the company is a good way to start, but there are also other ways to protect yourself as a consumer:

“You should be asking for the contract in advance of the movers showing up, because otherwise, you’re signing it on moving day and certainly under duress,” Carney said.

Carney also offers these suggestions:

  • Check with the Better Business Bureau and online sites like to find out what you can about the company’s reputation.
  • Google the company and owner's names.
  • Verify if the company belongs to a trade association of movers or a reputable Canadian van line.
  • Ask for references and then call them.
  • Ask if the movers can prove they have workers’ compensation coverage, in case a mover gets injured in your home while working.
  • Check to see if the company owns its trucks or if it just rents them.
  • Ask the movers to do an in-home survey and present you with a written estimate and the terms and conditions.