SAN DIEGO - An estimated 35 million Americans move each year, and for most it's a process full of stress and uncertainty. It can also be a major drain on finances, especially when the movers add on surprise charges, giving customers little choice but to pay up.
That's what Melissa Alexander said happened to her. The former 10News assignment editor moved to Arizona last month. The move was booked online through In and Out Movers, but when the movers finished loading the truck, the driver told Alexander her $1,178 move would now cost $2,370. He told her to make the check out to KLM Van Lines.
Alexander learned the hard way that some moving companies broker the move out to other companies without giving the customer any warning.
It's the same lesson Elise Campbell learned when she moved from a suburb of Nashville, Tennessee, to San Diego last year. She hired USA Moving Group, which gave her a binding moving estimate that said the entire 2,011-mile move would cost just $1,298.
Campbell had already started her new job in San Diego when the movers picked up her belongings and packed them on a truck. That's when she got a phone call from the driver, who told her there would be a change in price because she had more stuff than expected. The new price was more than twice as much as the original estimate -- $2,685.
"I have no choice," recalled Campbell. "I have to pay. I'm already here. My stuff needs to join me at some point."
The driver sent Campbell a new contract, and she was surprised to see that the carrier was now KLM Van Lines.
Both Campbell and Alexander got phone calls before their furniture was delivered behind schedule. In both cases, the drivers told them there would be an additional charge of $300 because they couldn't maneuver their 18-wheeler close enough to their new homes.
Alexander refused, and she wound up offloading her belongings to a truck she rented. That was when she learned her move had been brokered out to a third company for delivery.
The 18-wheeler rolled down the narrow street in front of Campbell's new home in San Diego. She was shocked when only one man got out to unload everything. Campbell watched through a window.
"He just drags a piece of furniture and starts dragging it on its legs across the bottom of the truck," Campbell told Team 10.
Much of Campbell's furniture are antiques passed down through her family over the past 100 years.
"It was bad, really bad," she said.
She then she lost her composure.
"I was crying, I was bawling in front of this guy and he totally bullied me. He was like, 'Oh, don't be like that. Don't be like that, it's just furniture. There's nothing you can do about it now,'" Campbell told Team 10.
Campbell showed Team 10 the scratched surface of what was once her grandmother's cedar chest. There were chips in the wood grain and a corner had splintered wood. A Depression-era writing desk with a built-in safe and sliding doors was also badly damaged.
"I'm the caretaker of all these precious family heirlooms and they've survived numerous cross country transits. They've never been damaged and now, on my watch, they're ruined," Campbell said.
A professional antique refinisher estimated it would cost more than $2,200 to repair Campbell's antiques.
Campbell filed complaints with both moving companies, as well as with the attorney generals in the states where they operate, and the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
Campbell got nowhere, and she finally gave up.
"There's no recourse," she said. "There's no accountability out there for your business practices and maintaining an ethical moving company."
Campbell and Alexander shared their problems on social media sites like Yelp, where they found no shortage of complaints about the three moving companies they felt cheated them. They also learned KLM Van Lines earned an "F" rating from the Better Business Bureau.
Team 10 logged on to the FMCSA's website and found KLM had four complaints in 2014, 15 complaints in 2015 and 36 complaints so far in 2016. Team 10 also learned that less than a month after Alexander said they botched her move, they were hit with three fines totaling $4,281. The penalties all stemmed from violations involving moving contracts.
The USA Moving Group is listed on FMCSA's website as "out of service" for failure to pay $9,180 in penalties related to misrepresentations and omissions in their moving contracts.
The company Alexander booked to move her belongings to Arizona is also under federal scrutiny. In and Out Movers was fined $15,470 just days before Alexander's move. If they don't pay the fines within 60 days, they too could be forced to stop doing business.
Alexander is still trying to get her money back, but said her calls are being ignored.
That's the same treatment Team 10 got. An email to KLM went unanswered.
When Team 10 called the company's office in Chatsworth, a suburb of Los Angeles, the woman who answered the phone promised to have a manager call back.
As of this story, that hasn't happened.
Team 10 got no answer from In and Out Movers. When Team 10 called their claims department, a representative for Anthem Claim Management said the company is on its delinquent list for not paying its bill. He said any claims filed now would go unpaid until further notice.
Team 10 did not receive a response from USA Moving Group.
The lesson here is be sure to do your homework. Before signing a moving contract, ask whether the move will be brokered to a different company. If it is, find out the company's name and track record before trusting them with your valuables.
For more information on making a safe move, and to check on complaints about a specific mover, log on to the FMCSA's Protect Your Move website.
The American Moving and Storage Association website also has resources to help your move go smoothly.