20140413_130148People sometimes ask me, where do you come up with the villains in your stories? The unfortunate answer is all around us. Sometimes villains are individuals. Other times villains are entire industries. My most recent “real life” villain encounter was with the moving industry as I moved my family from Austin, Texas to the rain-shadow on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. The entire industry is rotten: top to bottom, nuts to bolts with no exceptions as far as I can see.

The corruption was kicked off by deregulation. Now, thirty years later, the corruption has taken on a life of its own as theft and moral ambiguity are accepted industry-wide. It is a headless conspiracy, one without a leader. Like terrorism, the conspiracy is driven by a belief system. Like a predator, the industry sees you as a “thing”, a resource, and something to exploit.

My recommendation, unless you are opening an Ebay store and plan to be the movers, there is no upside. Hire local movers at each end, get a C license, and drive the truck yourself. I am not joking here. This is a toxic personality that should be avoided at all costs.

When I asked the Department of Transportation (DOT) Investigator – “What if the movers showed up with only a bed post?” His response – “Well, you are insured for $0.60 a pound” This is actually too optimistic. The reality is $0.30 a pound is expected after arbitration. He added, “You don’t have to pay for the items they didn’t move.” What he forgot to mention was you are obligated to pay upfront by law before they unload AND you’ll have to take them to court to get any money back. Some courts require you to sue the movers in their county, which in our case is a trip from Seattle area to Miami or about 3,000 miles. And this assumes you track down the company’s process agent, which of course they are not obligated to reveal.

As I said, I am not joking. Why would the DOT investigator not see how this was anything but legalized grand theft? That is because he lives and breathes in an industry that would eat its young if it could. So by comparison, legalized Grand Theft at $0.30 a pound is nothing. Further, the only risk to the movers is they will have to pay for some of what they stole (at $0.60 a pound) if taken to court with no jail time possibly attached. This is why the Mafia worked in this industry for years and why deregulation was a bad idea. Like personalities, some industries are predisposed to not behaving. The Milgram experiment years ago showed that ordinary people will do the most horrendous things if sanctioned by a governing body. This is seen in the Moving industry top to bottom, nuts to bolts.

1. Movers (Trans-United out of Florida)- They arrived 4 weeks late with an ETA always 2 days from when we called them. They charged 12K instead of 5K despite a binding contract. They destroyed or lost 1/3 of our stuff. They threatened to destroy our stuff if we kept talking to the Department of Transportation (DOT) investigators. Later, when they did destroy our stuff in retaliation, the DOT indicated they were powerless to do anything after the fact, much less prevent it. Further, the insurance company cited the intentional destruction of our stuff as reason for not covering our claim (which begs to question what the insurance was for other than charity.) But my favorite part was paying for moving charges for items the movers lost or destroyed.

2. Department of Transportation (DOT) – In a word – useless. They are impossible to get a hold of. They do not answer the phone or even respond to emails. They do warn they will not respond on their site, but that is little comfort. Working around the system, I got two DOT investigators to look closely at Trans-United out of Florida. When the owner threatened and then destroyed a lot of our stuff, the DOT investigator said, “wow, I guess they called us on that. There is NOTHING we can do.” Never mind they collect licensing fees from the movers. The investigators (as well as twelve other departments) act like victims and point the finger at deregulation and President Regan. Yes, thirty years or so after the fact President Regan is still responsible for the DOT not owning their own: behaviors, actions, and thoughts. Though I do agree the problem started with deregulation, at what point does the DOT chose to wipe its own nose and try, at least try, to change its lot in life? Whining about reality isn’t attractive in adults who act like children or regulating Government agencies that don’t regulate but collect taxes and complain about being underfunded when they do absolutely nothing at all in core areas.

3. BBB – With no vetting at all, the BBB gives any un-certified business an A- from day one. That is a problem in itself. However, if the business stays at the same location BUT sets up a new mailing address, well the BBB gives then a new A- listing and effectively resets their grade. (For fun Google “Florida BBB Trans-United” – there are quite a few aren’t there?) Also, if the owner responds with anything five times, even a cut-and-paste of the last response, the complaint is dropped by BBB. Escalating to the BBB’s Washington HQ office does nothing. Though this office at least acknowledges that bad folks work around the system all the time, they say, “rules are rules” and heaven forbid they “own” their rules, much less fix them. Yet another regulating body that doesn’t wipe its own nose. My guess is they blame Regan too as well as their parents for having a career at the BBB.

4. INSURANCE You can get outside insurance. However, unlike the better regulated auto industry, the moving insurance company can chose after the fact not to pay. In our case over half the items, including the mattress with the grease hand-prints, were initially not covered. In the end they covered everything except the mattress. The company cited the materials of a few items, how things were packed, etc; though many of these items were a total loss. This begs the question – what exactly was the coverage for on those items? I’m guess the mattress coverage was charity as it was a total loss, the coverage money collected, but there was no pay out. Further, they took the maximum time, two months, to process the claim, which prevented filing the lower $0.60 a pound coverage for those items. When I complained about all this to the agent, she was irritated. I guess this is how this industry works – the goal isn’t to do what is right, but to pay as little as possible. During this same time someone backed into our son’s car and the other person’s insurance was Geico. Though a low price leader in the car insurance industry, Geico from the start did the right thing and in the end covered the damage. [NOTE: The insurance carrier name was removed as part of the “settlement.” It should be noted the mattress was never paid for and was a total loss.]

5. COURTS – This was the last ray of hope, but really they just wanted a piece of the action. The problem is when this industry got deregulated basically all the consumer protections were gutted while the industry protections remained in place. The mover is liable for the entire $0.60 a pound, unless the insurance company comes back late (as they did in our case) and protest period has expired. Then you get nothing. We got nothing. If we had somehow got something, the movers would ask to go to arbitration where you have a good chance of getting half – $0.30 a pound. But most often you get nothing if you didn’t follow the specific instructions set by the movers. In our case the instructions were: buy a traditional camera, develop photos, and fill out in pen the forms. If you used a digital camera or word process, your claim was void. Of course this procedure would eat up the $0.30 a pound in administration costs. On the 12K verses 5K difference between the initial “binding” estimate and what the movers actually charged once the truck was loaded, well you’ll need to find their process agent to file a claim. Then in many small claims courts you need to show up in person, which in our case was over 3,000 miles away.

6. MOVER RATING SITES – So the first three hits via Google included moving sites that had 300 or so good reviews. Obviously they are paying via Fiverr.com or otherwise to bump up their ratings. These are some of the most used sites for this sort of thing. Luckily Trans-United has moved down but when I looked there were 5 sites with 4.5-5 stars with 200+ reviews. The dates went back to 2010.

I could go on and on as this was only the tip of the iceberg (yeah it was that bad) All this said, everyone involved, except the movers, acknowledges the problem, well, except their part in it – the part they can do something about. For all involved, like in the Milgram study, they blame “the system” and the actual victim. As our adjuster put it – “we should have known better.” That is right, we should have expected that everyone in this industry, themselves included, was scum and would try to screw us over. Point taken. Now I know.

The one silver lining is I do get great evil characters for my stories. And sometimes those characters are entire industries.

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