CBC Investigates

Red flags and 'rogue' movers: what to watch out for in the unregulated moving industry

Consumer and industry advocates say widespread issues in the moving industry, that exist across the country, are linked to government deregulation decades ago — a move that's resulted in no required licensing or oversight.

Advocates warn consumers to do their research to protect themselves and their possessions

The federal and provincial governments deregulated the moving industry in the early 1980s, so there's no oversight in place. (CBC)

Consumer and industry advocates say widespread issues in the moving industry, that exist across the country, are linked to government deregulation decades ago — a move that's resulted in no required licensing or oversight.

"So you or I could build a website, put an ad on Kijiji, rent a U-Haul truck and essentially be in business to be a mover," said Peter Moorhouse, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau for the Atlantic provinces.

"There would be no extra government applications that we would need to make to do that. And that's part of the issue, is that there are people who set themselves up to be really deliberately untraceable in a lot of ways."

Watch out for 'rogue movers'

Moorhouse says the BBB receives a significant number of complaints about the moving industry, including more than 100 annually that can't be investigated, because the companies don't actually exist — a phenomenon known as "rogue movers."

Peter Moorhouse is the president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau, serving the Atlantic provinces. (CBC)

"If you go to the websites for these companies, they have testimonials, they have really nice pictures that make it look like it's a very reputable, legitimate company, and the prices that they're offering … just an unreasonably good deal," Moorhouse said. 

"For us, that tends to be a bit of a red flag rather than anything else."

The Canadian Association of Movers also keeps a close eye on the industry. Former president Patrick Greaney, whose term recently ended, says it's important to keep cost in mind.

So you or I could build a website, put an ad on Kijiji , rent a U-Haul truck and essentially be in business to be a mover.- Peter Moorhouse

"They'll say, 'I'll move you from Toronto to Newfoundland for $500 for a one-bedroom apartment.' Well, a one-bedroom apartment could be about 1,000 pounds. Well they're not going to do it for $500, and they're not going to have it there in three days," Greaney said.

"A 1,000 pound shipment would take three weeks to get that distance. And just the fact that the fuel, the labour, all of those costs involved — it's impossible to do for $500."

Greaney says the next step of this type of scam includes arriving at the moving destination, and saying the estimate didn't match the actual moving costs, so the price gets jacked at final delivery.

Don't be fooled by fancy websites

Greaney says one of the biggest problems right now is how rogue movers sell themselves — spending lots of money on online advertising.

"Some are so well-funded in the background that they establish their identity on the internet with a name close to a legitimate moving company. And we've actually had a case in Ontario where a company went on, and if you clicked on the one van company's name, it didn't go to that company — it went to this rogue company," he said. 

"They lost business over two to three months, until they found it out. So they really hijacked the website. And we're seeing more and more of that."

Both Greaney and Moorhouse emphasize there are some small moving companies that do excellent work, but they say the industry is tarnished by questionable movers who shouldn't be in business.

Do your research

Moorhouse says the best way to protect yourself as a consumer is by doing your research.

There's no economic value that I could place on your collection of photos and family memorabilia, but they're priceless to you. And yet, you're not picking out someone that's going to treat them that way.- Patrick Greaney

"We need customers to really be mindful of the fact that if they're seeing what seems to be a 'too good to be true' sort of price, the warning bells should be going off," he said.

"It's not necessarily that you're getting a great deal. You may be dealing with a company that you shouldn't be dealing [with]."

Greaney says it's important to get a written inventory list of items and an estimate — something he says rogue movers won't provide.

Patrick Greaney is the former president of the Canadian Association of Movers. (CBC)

Greaney agrees it's important to look into a moving business before hiring.

"People are moving their life's possessions … and there's no economic value that I could place on your collection of photos and family memorabilia, but they're priceless to you," he said. 

"And yet, you're not picking out someone that's going to treat them that way. And that's the message that we're trying to get across."

If you still have questions, Moorhouse says to check the BBB website for business ratings and reviews, check the movers' association membership list, and ask around to get recommendations from family and friends.

Twin City Movers situation

This week, CBC Investigates reported on Twin City Movers, a St. John's company whose owner has a series of past driving-related offences.

Back in June, a different Twin City employee fled from police after smashing into two other cars while driving a company van. Police later found needles in the van and in his pocket. The van wasn't insured or registered at the time. The driver owed nearly $5,000 in fines, and had a long criminal record for offences that include dangerous driving and fraud.

In October, a CBC Investigates producer contacted the company, without identifying himself as a journalist. He asked for, and received, a quote on a move. 

When asked if Twin City does background checks on its employees, the person on the line said yes.

So what is Moorhouse's reaction, when he hears a story like this?

"My reaction is wow … It sounds like a very unusual case," Moorhouse said.

"There are certainly issues in the moving industry, but what you've described is a pretty extreme case of negligence on the part of the ownership and the driver."

Some provinces working on regulations

Greaney says the association has had conversations with some provinces that are working on consumer protection rules, including Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, and British Columbia.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, Service NL Minister Sherry Gambin-Walsh was not available for an interview. CBC Investigates was instead provided with a written statement on behalf of the department.

Sherry Gambin-Walsh is the minister of Service NL, which is responsible for consumer affairs. (CBC)

"Moving companies, as businesses that operate in Newfoundland and Labrador, are required to comply with the Consumer Protection and Business Practices Act, which protects all consumers from misleading advertising," the statement reads.

The department recommends that consumers try to settle disputes directly with the company in question. If those efforts are unsuccessful, consumers are asked to contact Service NL's consumer affairs division for advice and assistance.

Service NL says vehicles that are used by moving companies typically fall into the category of commercial vehicles — which would have to be registered under the National Safety Code program as a carrier, and comply with the applicable regulations under the Highway Traffic Act.

About the Author

Jen White

CBC News

Jen White is a journalist with CBC News in St. John's.

With files from Rob Antle and Ryan Cooke