Customers of a national car shipping company are warning other potential customers after they say they paid thousands of dollars trying to ship cars that never left the lot.
ABR Shipping is an internet-based company that comes up as one of the first options when people enter "Canadian car shipping" into an online search engine.
Marnie Dodd, a retired senior, was moving from Perth, Ont., to Vancouver Island and was looking to get her car shipped when she filled out the company's online form. A representative of ABR then called her and offered an attractive price —$1,603.52 — to ship her car across the country.
Dodd was asked to leave her car at a local lot, pay for the service with a money order and send the money order to an address just outside of downtown Montreal.
'I was running into a brick wall'
"I assumed everything was going to be OK, that my car was going to be picked up," said Dodd.
But after she arrived in British Columbia, her car didn't appear. When she called the car lot where she had arranged to leave it, employees said the vehicle had never left. The lot was not affiliated with ABR.
She said she could not reach ABR for answers.
Options limited for consumers
Part of the frustration for complainants is what they see as a lack of recourse after they pay for a service they don't receive.
The Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association (CIFFA) and Canadian Association of Movers are two industry associations in Canada, but ABR Shipping isn't a member of either organization.
Both Industry Canada and Transport Canada said these incidents fall outside their mandate.
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre is a government agency that helps consumers that have been victims of fraud. But a spokesperson told CBC News the centre primarily focuses on issues such as email scams or bank card fraud and recommended we speak to the RCMP and local police forces.
However, police recommended CBC News speak to the anti-fraud centre.
Small claims court is an option for people looking to get money back after a failed transaction, but complainants may not want to take the time or spend the necessary money to make a claim.
"They didn't answer the phone, I emailed them, no response. They just completely ignored me," said Dodd. "I was running into a brick wall[with] anyone I tried to contact."
As a senior on a fixed income, Dodd said she couldn't afford to spend the money for nothing.
Class-action lawsuit considered
CBC News spoke with customers in Halifax, Calgary, Toronto and Winnipeg who all had similar experiences with the company.
Aly Rajab hired ABR in February to ship his car from Halifax to Toronto for about $1,000.
When his car didn't arrive, he managed to reach someone at the company, who gave him what he described as a series of excuses, including problems with sick drivers, broken down trucks and bad weather.
Rajab, who now lives in Toronto, eventually hired another company to ship his car. He is organizing a class-action lawsuit.
"There are lots of victims and I feel so bad for them and myself… I just think it's not fair. If I kept silent and everybody just walked away without complaining, this company will just continue," said Rajab.
Some customers receive refunds
CBC News reached two customers who did receive refunds.
Sam Odivwri of Calgary said that when the company failed to pick up his car in February after he had paid $1,000, he called them repeatedly for answers and was told that both the driver and the woman in charge of accounts were sick.
But Odivwri was persistent, and eventually the company sent a refund in two $500 instalments, one in March and one in April.
CBC News attempted to reach ABR Shipping by phone and email without success. But we did visit the site where all of the customer money orders were addressed: an apartment building just outside downtown Montreal.
A woman who identified herself as Helen answered the door and confirmed the apartment was the address for ABR shipping.
She said all of the company's customers are satisfied and said customers who didn't receive the service have been refunded. She then closed the door.
Owner says truck fire to blame
Minutes after reporters left the building, a man called CBC News saying he was the owner of ABR shipping. He said his name was Alex but would not give his last name and wouldn't agree to an on-camera interview.
He said his truck was destroyed by fire last month.
"From my side the situation is worse and worse… I don't mean to screw people and use the money for somewhere, like invest in stock market or real estate or somewhere. I try to be normal guy, but it's bad, bad luck."
He told CBC News he would repay anyone he owed money to within a week.
"For sure … one week they're going to receive money," he said.
Customer wary of online deals
Marnie Dodd is skeptical she'll get her money back.
"I don't believe them. They've been misleading people for so long … I really doubt the validity of what they say. That's how I feel," said Dodd.
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Dodd said the shipping company she eventually hired to move her car told her any time a company asks for a money order up front before completing a job it is a major red flag. She also said she is more fearful of shopping online.
"I would trust getting references, personal references, but I would never ever arrange anything by the internet again," said Dodd.