Secret trackers and hidden cameras expose how some movers could be ripping you off
One woman’s bill jumped $20,000 after trucks left, Marketplace investigation found
A group of moving companies is offering low quotes and then increasing the total cost of moves by thousands of dollars — in some cases grossly over-estimating the weight of goods to be moved, a CBC Marketplace investigation has found.
Questionable moving practices are on the rise, industry experts say. It's a problem heightened by the global COVID-19 pandemic. In the spring of 2021, more Canadians moved to another province than any other time since 1991, according to Statistics Canada.
- Watch the full Marketplace investigation anytime on YouTube.
Ontario's Ministry of Government and Consumer Services received 59 complaints about moving companies in 2021, up from 36 the year before. In the last two years, at least 24 complaints were related to the group of companies in the Marketplace investigation, which includes Safe Bound Moving, Roadway Moving, O Canada Movers and Move Me Again Transportation. These companies conduct moves across the country and are operated by friends Dogan Celik and Cemal Ozturk.
To document the companies' contracts, sales tactics and quoting practices, a CBC Marketplace producer went undercover, posing as a customer of Roadway Moving. The company was hired to transport the contents of a one-bedroom apartment from Toronto to Sudbury Ont.
What Marketplace uncovered mirrored the claims of some former customers, who say that after getting a quote based on an estimated weight of their items and putting down a non-refundable $200 deposit, they felt pressured to sign a new contract with a higher flat-rate weight on moving day.
Once the movers drive away, the company sends an invoice with a higher total price. In some cases, customers say they're told their belongings will be withheld until the new price is paid.
"It is definitely the scam of the season," said Nancy Irvine, president of the Canadian Association of Movers (CAM), whose organization receives complaints from the public about moving companies and different types of alleged scams.
Irvine says CAM has received many complaints connected to the family of companies in the Marketplace investigation. These companies are not affiliated with her association, which has a rigorous certification process. In fact, CAM issued a warning about the companies on its consumer alerts page in June 2021.
Roadway Moving first quoted the Marketplace producer $895 to move 1,000 pounds, based on what the company calls an "industry standard" weight. It then sent an inventory spreadsheet for the producer to tally up the weight of her belongings. Each piece of furniture and size of box on the list had an estimated weight. According to the spreadsheet, the Marketplace producer's belongings added up to 3,050 pounds.
Based on the new estimated weight, the company sent another quote for $1,495 before tax but said in an email that, "you will be invoiced for less if you are less in weight."
But when movers arrived to pick up the items, they brought out a new contract, pressuring the undercover producer to sign off on a flat rate of 4,000 pounds.
The contract also had a different company name at the top — O Canada Movers.
WATCH | While Marketplace producers waited for their delivery, hidden GPS trackers showed the truck unexpectedly completing an entirely different move first:
The movers said the office wouldn't conduct a move of that size for less than 5,000 pounds, but would cut the undercover producer a deal by offering a 4,000 pounds flat rate. In previous correspondence, the company said the minimum was only 1,000 pounds.
The movers said that if the producer had her belongings weighed, it could result in a charge of more than 4,000 lbs. They steered her into choosing the flat-rate option instead.
This contract also listed some charges such as a "destination area surcharge" and a "fuel surcharge," but not the total price for the move at a weight of 4,000 pounds.
According to Irvine, that's a red flag.
"You should have your contract well in advance of moving day," she said. "And you should know your fees right up front."
Irvine said it's normal for a move like this to be invoiced by weight — but the company should actually go to a scale, not guess how much a customer's items weigh and get them to sign off on that amount.
About three hours after the movers left, the company called to say the total was $3,234.65, which included a $500 "over allocation fee."
Marketplace had initially taken the items to a certified scale and knew the total weight was only 1,280 pounds — less than a third of what the company claimed.
Roadway Moving and O Canada Movers are directed by Dogan Celik. All of these companies appear to operate out of the same office and warehouse in Scarborough, Ont.
Company promises "full review"
In an email statement, Celik said his companies value customers and treat them with respect, and that his companies will be "doing a full review of all of our operations and procedures to ensure that the companies are following these important company values."
When Marketplace visited the Scarborough office to get answers to its specific questions, Celik said: "Everything, it's on confirmation emails."
For the Marketplace move, the company sent a confirmation email that said: "If no inventory is provided any estimated quotations cannot be guaranteed. A flat rate will only be provided to you by the mover." The email also said that over allocation fees could apply.
Yet Marketplace producers did fill out the inventory sheet and sent it back, but the movers still pushed a flat rate and included an "over allocation fee" on the final invoice.
A move gone wrong
It's not the first time these companies exaggerated the weight of a move.
Sherri Watson hired Safe Bound Moving, which is also directed by Dogan Celik, to transport the contents of her four-bedroom home from Brampton, Ont., to Sudbury, Ont., in May 2021. She and her family planned to spend the summer in their motorhome while shopping for a new home. Watson chose Safe Bound because it offered eight weeks of free storage.
Safe Bound originally quoted Watson $1,780 before tax to move 6,000 pounds of items. The company asked Watson to fill out a spreadsheet, too, but she says she had trouble opening the file. Instead, Watson sent emails listing items in her move. Safe Bound told Watson that if she didn't send the inventory sheet back, the quote could not be guaranteed.
But according to Irvine, that's not enough. "The only way someone can actually give you any kind of a reasonable estimate is to come to the house (or do a virtual survey by video call on the phone)," she said in an email.
"And if they refuse to do it? Dollars to doughnuts they're scams."
Watson's move ended up spanning three days and three different contracts. She says that each day, once the movers loaded the truck, they asked her to sign another contract, this time with a different company name — Move Me Again Transportation.
On the first day, Watson said the movers told her they overloaded the truck and they'd be forced to dispose of her belongings if they took the vehicle to a scale. So she agreed to a flat rate of 22,000 pounds instead.
"I thought he had done me a huge favour by knocking (the weight) down so they didn't have to throw out my things," she said.
The following day, Watson says she was asked to sign a second contract. She says she understood the contract was to ensure her belongings would be stored with the first load of items. But this contract set out a flat rate of an additional 13,000 pounds for that day's belongings. The contract she was given on the final day of the move had a flat rate of an additional 1,500 pounds.
For Watson's lawyer, Rocco Scocco, bringing out a new contract at this stage of a move is too late.
"Her stuff's already in the truck, what is she expected to do? To tell them to unload the truck after spending a whole day lifting?" he said. "It's a high-pressure situation. She was not able to renegotiate," which, he argues, goes against Ontario's Consumer Protection Act.
Like in the Marketplace move, none of the contracts indicated a total price.
A few days later, Watson received three separate invoices. The company was charging her for a combined flat rate weight of 36,500 pounds of belongings. She'd also incurred several "space allocation exceeded" fees and now owed $19,874.60.
The company also charged her 10 cents more per pound than her quote.
This was all in addition to a $200 booking fee Watson had paid to secure the move, and two e-transfer deposits of $1,500 sent to the company during the move.
"I was in disbelief at first," Watson said. "I was convinced that it was a mistake … somebody hit the wrong numbers on the keyboard."
Watson says Safe Bound told her to pay — or her belongings would be thrown away.
She hired Scocco to help get her belongings back. In September, she was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
"It is very tough. You know, they potentially took away my last summer with my family," she said.
After months of back and forth with the companies' legal representative, Scocco negotiated the release of her belongings from the warehouse in Scarborough.
Watson says some of the items were missing and damaged. Others were covered in rodent droppings or had been chewed.
Watson's belongings were also weighed at a certified scale. The items retrieved from storage were 16,240 pounds — more weight than the company's original estimate, but nowhere near the 36,500 pounds the companies claimed on the invoices.
The sole director of Move Me Again Transportation is Cemal Ozturk. Despite several attempts, Ozturk could not be reached for comment.
What needs to change?
Ontario's Ministry of Government and Consumer Services (MGCS) has the power to investigate and lay charges against companies that violate the Consumer Protection Act (CPA). While Scocco claims the companies' practices are contrary to the CPA, that remains unclear.
MGCS only lists four moving companies on its Consumer Beware List, and none appear to be associated with the companies in the Marketplace investigation.
WATCH | Hidden cameras catch movers pushing inflated weight estimates:
Companies make this list if they don't respond to the government's questions about a customer complaint, or the business has been charged or convicted in relation to the CPA.
In an email statement, the ministry said it doesn't release information related to investigations to the public, but that there are several ways the ministry takes action against businesses that are not complying with the CPA, including mediation, compliance orders, and educating businesses and consumers on their rights.
Scocco says consumer protection laws need to be strengthened. He would like to see some form of licensing for moving companies, too.
"Our laws are not in place to do anything about [these issues], except through the courts, and that's a personal expense that consumers will have to incur."
Tips for screening movers
Many of the people Marketplace spoke with said that they thought they'd done their research into the company they hired. It can be tricky to find the facts. Here are a few tips from the Canadian Association of Movers, lawyers and investigative journalists who've covered this topic:
See if the company is a member of the Canadian Association of Movers.
Check the Canadian Association of Movers consumer alerts page.
Call the consumer protection office in your province and ask if they've received any complaints about the company.
Search your province's consumer beware list, like this one for Ontario.
Look up the company on the Better Business Bureau, check out their rating, and read complaints and company responses, too.
Many local news outlets cover questionable moving practices. Search the company name in Google's "news" tab. Are there reputable news articles about the company, like this one?
- Companies should do a walk-through — in person or virtually — of your home before giving you a quote. If the company asks for a deposit to book the move before this, according to CAM, that's a big red flag.