Help, I’ve been scammed by my moving company

snowroadQuestion: Last fall I made a temporary international move from the USA to Santiago, Chile, using Allied Van Lines. When I was in the US, they gave me a quote for door-to-door service, which I paid in full.

Then, when I arrived in Chile, they told me that I had to pay an extra $1,195. At the time I complained because I had already payed for door-to-door service and all charges should have been included in the initial quote. But they gave me no satisfactory explanation and told me that if I did not pay I would not receive my belongings and, on top of that, they would begin charging me for storage of my belongings until I paid in full. So I felt I had no choice except to pay.

Afterwards, I filed BBB complaints against both Allied International and their local contractor in Maryland who handled the US side of the move, but neither complaint helped.

The subcontractor basically said that was the price of doing business with them and Allied Van Lines said it was Allegheny’s fault. Allied offered to pay USD $188 and I refused that offer because it was an insignificant part of the money that they unfairly charged me.

Now both of the BBB complaints are closed and I still have no refund. I also contacted the State of Maryland Consumer Protection Division, but they told me they couldn’t do anything because I had already filed BBB complaints and they generally don’t act on complaints that have already passed through BBB because they have basically the same process as BBB. They told me if I wanted to I could go to small claims court, but since I’m currently out of the country, I can’t do this – they could call me to court anytime and the plane ticket back home would be at least as much as the money they owe me.

The other thing that’s problematic is that Allied is a huge international company that’s divided into several international and local contractors and it seems easy for them to have one part of the company blame the other and nobody actually help me.

I’m now completely frustrated and feel taken advantage of with no idea what to do. — Melanie Freed, Santiago, Chile

Answer: The price you were quoted by Allied is the price you should have paid. No two ways about it.

You may be the victim of a moving scam. Here’s how it works: You’re asked to prepay for a move, but when you arrive at your destination, the company says your furniture was “overweight” and that you owe it more money. If you don’t fork over the money, it will keep your personal belongings and charge you for storage.

As the veteran of many moves, I have some personal experience in this area. First, there’s no worse feeling than being in a home without your furniture, so movers know they have you over a barrel. They literally have your life in the back of their truck. You feel terribly vulnerable.

My family’s personal belongings were once held hostage by a moving company after an overseas move. It was demanding extra money in “port fees” and refused to release our furniture until we paid up. My father balked. I’m not sure about the exact details of the negotiation, but knowing him, he probably told them to keep the container. The movers caved in quickly.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen for you. In addition to contacting local authorities and the BBB, you might have appealed to someone at Allied. The company’s parent company, Sirva, lists the names of its executives on its site. Naming conventions at Sirva are

It’s possible that the extra charges were legitimate, but I doubt it. When you move back to the States, I would check out the Transportation Department’s moving site, which lists some of the warning signs of an impending moving scam. Based on its list of red flags, I would say you probably were ripped off.

I made multiple attempts to contact Allied on your behalf over a six-month period but it didn’t respond. Since you’re in Chile, you’ve decided not to pursue a small-claims case against Allied and its subcontractor. Unfortunately, this one’s going into my “unsolved” case file.

Was Melanie Freed scammed by her moving company?

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Update (3/5/13): Allied has responded to the story.

I am writing in response to a recent article on your web site regarding Melanie Freed and her experience working with Allied on her move to South America.

As Vice President of Marketing for Allied’s parent company SIRVA, I’ve looked into the matter and wanted to shed light on additional details about the situation. We provided a quote for Ms. Freed’s move in July 2011 and, as is normal business practice in the international moving industry, the quote included descriptions of three standard exclusions – port charges, customs and deconsolidation fees. These are documented as exclusions in every quote we provide because of they are variable from country to country.

When the shipment was delivered to the destination, Ms. Freed was charged for the following expenses by Ward Van Lines, Allied’s long serving and trusted agent in Chile:

Customs – $210
Port charges – $275
Deconsolidation – $522
B/L Emission Fee – $188

The first three charges were specifically listed as exclusions on the quote; the first two born out of international transportation fees that can’t be accurately quoted ahead of time (in our communication with Ms. Freed, she did not dispute the customs charges) and the third for deconsolidation (or breaking down a shipment). This fee was generated because Ms. Freed’s shipment of roughly 1,960 pounds was sent LCL (less than container load). LCL indicates that several shipments travel together in one container, and although this delivers financial benefits to the customer over a special container load, there is a charge by the port agent for removing and separating the shipments for correct delivery. This is a standard exclusion among all moving companies and is a variable because the number of LCLs in a container will determine the cost. No one was holding her shipment hostage; these fees were clearly described in the quote as exclusions. Our contractor partner, Allegheny Transfer, has indicated that they told Ms. Freed about this exclusion, although she disputes this. I should also point out that all of these charges were passed on at the actual cost by the service providers involved.

In reviewing the fourth charge listed above, we decided to offer to reimburse Ms. Freed for that fee since it wasn’t specifically listed as an exclusion. She refused that offer.

The explanations provided here are the same ones that we proactively provided to the Better Business Bureau on the two occasions we were contacted by them on this issue. Their decision was to close the complaints based on that information. We have not heard from Ms. Freed since the complaints were closed and she refused our offer to reimburse the $188, so we, too, considered the matter closed. That’s the reason we did not reply to your requests for comment, and we were frankly surprised to see the complaint reemerge in your posting.

Allied provided the quote for this move and we worked with a third party company (Allegheny) at Ms. Freed’s original location that handled the customer service. We apologize that the communication about exclusions may not have been ideal at that stage of the transaction, but it’s unfair to suggest that the charges were bogus or out of line with industry standards, or that Allied and SIRVA were uncommunicative, dishonest or the perpetuators of a “moving scam.” That just wasn’t the case.


Jeff Knapton
Vice President Marketing

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Raven_Altosk

    Totally scammed, this was a no-brainer. Unfortunately, this is kind of par for the course with many international moves. My company actually started their own subsidiary that JUST handles moving people around because of problems like this.

    Hate to tell the OP this, but she’s never going to see that money again.

  • john4868

    I really feel sorry for the OP on this one… I wonder how “temporary” the move is and what the statute of limitations on a small claims case is in MD. She might be able to file when she returns.

  • BillCCC

    I voted yes but I not sure exactly what happened. The OP used the pronoun ‘they’ throughout the complaint but I was never really sure who she was talking about. Normally a quote is considered an estimate and there are reason why she might have to pay more at the other end. However if she paid in full prior to the move and that was indicated on her receipt then she was ripped off.

  • EdB

    I’m not sure if Maryland courts allow it but in California small claims court you can appoint someone to represent you if you are unable to be present. If the OP has someone back home they trust, they might still be able to pursue the case through the courts.

  • Sonia

    This happend to a friend of mine with this company, but it was a domestic move, not an international one. And we used Allied exactly once, and they took a month to deliver our stuff when they promised us delivery in 10 days. They did give us $100 to get “incidentals” while we slept on the floor of our new house and ate off plates borrowed from a neighbor.

  • mbods

    This is a horrible story and so happy you published so we all now know not to ever use Allied! It makes me so uncomfortable that there is nowhere for this poor person to turn. I wonder, as EdB suggested, if she can appoint someone to represent her in court?

  • Alan Gore

    Just like all those airline cases you handle, the worst scams always occur when some company has a customer over the barrel in a place far from home. Since none of the consumer-protection mechanisms ordinary people can use work internationally, your only recourse is to minimize your exposure to this type of situation. If you need to move internationally, sell all of the big stuff and buy replacements when you arrive. No mystery fees to worry about!

  • Warren

    Unfortunately, stuff like that happens all the time. About 10 years ago I found a site that discusses movers (and moving scams) and use it as a reference whenever I or anyone I know gets ready to move.

  • Grant Ritchie

    Hi Melanie,

    I just Googled “Maryland Small Claims Court,” and found that there is a three-year statute of limitations for filing an action. So, if you’re going to be back in Maryland within three years of your loss, sue ’em. Here’s a link…

    Also, if you scroll down to near the bottom of the page, it appears that you’re allowed to use a lawyer. I don’t know if that means in your absence or if you’d still have to be there, but it wouldn’t hurt to check. I hope you’ll follow up on this. Allied has gotten away with this kind of ripoff way too often. Good luck!

  • Raven_Altosk

    Adding to this: If OP decides to sue, make sure she saves all text messages and emails involving this transaction. Texts tend to get deleted or lost when phones are switched, so print them out.

  • MeanMeosh

    A moving company attempted to foist this scam on me a few years ago. My expat assignment in India was wrapping up, and it was time to move back home. My company handled the move, and a few weeks before the move, the moving company sent a lady over to conduct a “survey”. She assured us that everything was fine and we would be well within the weight limits specified by my company. Sure enough, on the day of the move, my stuff magically became “overweight”, and they said they wouldn’t transport the excess without the payment of an additional fee (not reimburseable by my employer, of course). I refused and called the HR department handling my move instead to complain. Their tune changed REAL quick after that.

    Sadly, sounds like the moving company was successful in running their scam this time. Moral of the story – where foreign moving companies are involved, you can usually get out of the scam just by arguing and refusing to pay (or the charge will at least get knocked down to something like a $50 “tip”). Granted, that’s easier said than done when you’re being threatened with having your stuff held hostage.

  • Jason T

    For what it’s worth, has the BBB ever done anything to help any customers of any business? I’ve heard that it’s just bought by any company and doesn’t (and shouldn’t) have any legitimacy at all.

    And now I believe it.

  • emanon256

    I voted yes, I HATE moving companies. I had a similar thing happen to me 12 years ago. When I moved to the Midwest, the company I hired said they charged upfront, in fact everyone I got quotes from charged up front, so it sounded normal. Two weeks after I moved, some other company started calling to arrange the delivery. I asked what happened to the company I hired and they said that my company only does the pickup, then outsource the delivery. I said fine and made the arrangements for him to come the following afternoon. Then when the truck came at 11pm (very late), the driver wanted $1,600 cash before he would unload. When I said I already paid in full and showed him the invoice, he said that was for the pick up, that this is the delivery fee. After much arguing he said if I didn’t pay he would be leaving and disposing of my items. I offered to pay by check and he said Cash Only. I scrambled, went to ATMs, borrowed money from a neighbor who was still up and came up with about $800. He agreed he would leave my items on the curb, but not carry anything inside (up 2 flights of stairs) or unwrap anything. The original quote stated all items would be put in the new apartment, and unwrapped, and stated there were two flights of stairs, I actually paid extra for the two flights of stairs. In their haste, the movers even threw a few items out of the truck breaking them including a box of wine glasses and my kitchen table. Then they insisted I sign a form stating everything was delivered in undamaged condition, I refused, and the driver pulled out wire cutters and started cutting the lines on the bicycle demanding I sign. I still refused and called my neighbor back, and called the police and the driver left. My neighbor helped em move everything up the stairs.

    I called the original company who insisted it was between me and the subcontractor. I filled a complaint with the BBB, who did absolutely nothing, so I finally sued the original company in small claims court. Sadly, the judge did not order them to repay the $800 I paid to the sub contractor because he stated this was not reasonably foreseeable to the moving company, and stated I would have to sue the fly by night company. He also did not award me the travel expenses to go back to Denver for court. He did award me $200 for the return of the extra fee for the stairs, and the depreciated value for the bicycle, table, and wine glasses which the judge believed were worth $300 combined. I was quite disappointed in our legal system, and humanity.

  • Raven_Altosk

    I would’ve called the cops at the first attempt of extortion.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    The most disappointing (and scariest) part of the letter was the Maryland Consumer Protection Division telling the OP they use the same process to clear complaints as the BBB. For those not familiar with that process, the BBB just contacts the business telling them there’s been a complaint and the business has to do little more than acknowledge they’re aware of the complaint, have reviewed it, and decided they are in the right and the consumer is wrong. Then the BBB wipes it away (at least they do if the business is a member of the BBB). There’s no requirement to resolve the issue. (And the BBB can also reject your complaint outright if they decide they don’t like it for whatever reason, which is a major conflict of interest considering they are paid membership dues by these same businesses they’re supposedly policing.)

    Now, the reason you typically see businesses who aren’t BBB members have horrible BBB ratings (like the “F” that Starbucks had, at least at one time) is that the BBB isn’t nearly as quick to wipe away complaints for non-member businesses. (That and gigantic companies like Starbucks naturally attract more complaints.) The irony is that if you intended to run a shady business, the first thing you should do is join the BBB so that they’d help protect your reputation.

  • emanon256

    It has never helped me. And when I ran a business, it tried to extort money out of me for a good rating.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    The only way to avoid becoming a victim in cases of consumer fraud is to pay by credit card. If you pay cash, you’re helpless. It’s hard for Americans to accept that using well-known companies is no guarantee of honesty; seems like most of them are out to drag as much money as possible out of their customers. Values, ethics, morals … a concept that is disappearing more quickly every year.

  • bodega3

    My sister is about to move part way across the US. I advised her on taking her smaller items of value, those of monetary and sentimental value, as you might not see them again or in the condition they were went she packed them. I had a friend move one state away and while the van went through Nevada, her wedding dress was taken out and used in a quickie wedding. My cousin moved from the US to Panama and things were missing when it arrived. Too many sad stories so I hope I never had to use a moving company!

  • Raven_Altosk

    The only use I have for the BBB is getting information on charities. Thanks to the BBB’s info, I refuse to give to the United Way after learning their CEO makes over $750K per year.

  • NakinaAce

    Try telling the mover (Allied) you are going to notify the GSA and the US Army, Air Force and Navy of their actions. Without these large contracts with the military the corporate people at Allied will have a huge problem. I know this is nothing to do with the military but I think it will get someones attention there and that is half the battle.

  • pauletteb

    I’ve never moved internationally, but even my longer distance domestic moves have involved friends and family with trucks, strong backs, and a willingness to be paid in pizza and beer!

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    It is probably a scam without seeing the paperwork. The $ 1,195 could be for extra weight. Unless it is a small move (in regards to size and weight of the contents), it is hard for me to believe that a moving company will give a fixed cost without weighing the goods, etc.

  • emanon256

    Wow! I stopped giving to United Way after a former employer required we make a mandatory donation of $120 per year.

    I used to use a site called Charity Navigator to look up charities. Though, I pretty much give to the same ones every year now because I know they are good and I like them.

    I had several people send me an e-mail late last year stating what charities were good and what charities were bad, and I found the e-mail to be the opposite of the truth. Very sad.

  • emanon256

    I guess the BBB is reading the forum. Why would anyone give you down vote for that?

  • emanon256

    When I used a moving company, 100% of them took cash or checks only. And I called over 20 companies. I could not find a single company that took a credit card.

  • Carchar

    Even if the lawyer gets most of the money, it’s probably worth it.

  • LFH0

    Did Ms. Freed investigate whether it is viable to sue in Chile?

  • Ian Parrish

    I think there’s some necessary additional advice here…I guess Chris specializes more in travel than moves. I just finished an international move with a bump or two, so I’m more informed than I would like.

    Before you do anything, you need to identify where the additional charge came from. You should receive a bill of lading and itemized receipt. Now, the real question is what sort of estimate you received. You may have received a non-binding quote, in which case, you are responsible for additional charges for additional weight quite legitimately. One thing to note is that the movers must release your goods if you pay 110% of the non-binding estimate or 100% of the binding estimate. In the former case, you may owe more money, but they can’t hold your goods hostage. Without knowing the source of the charge, how can we tell if you should have owed it or not. If you had a majorly overweight (relative to a non-binding estimate) $11,000 total move, they were completely in the right to charge you that on delivery.

    There are a few steps that I think you need to be aware of. First, you should go to the website It’s the official government site and should be quite informative. Second, you should file a complaint with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, as linked on the previous website. These complaints are actually tallied and published for all the movers, and I think the carriers take them seriously.

    Finally, your moving company is required to have an official dispute resolution program, which often includes an arbitration component as the required first step. This would be your next step in the process if you were legitimately overcharged.

  • JenniferFinger

    Yeah, she was scammed. Some 14 years ago I was scammed on a cross country move. That said, with a foreign move, there may not be anything you can do.

  • Raven_Altosk

    One thing I don’t miss about my truck (since now I have a Daddy Mobile) is “Hey bro, wanna help me move?” LOL.

  • Raven_Altosk

    I’ll be checking out Charity Navigator, thanks! :D

  • Christopher Elliott

    Thank you for the additional pointers. Some of this information — notably the link to — did appear in the original story.

  • TonyA_says

    Check out all the wanted moving scam fugitives.
    Looks like 99% of them are from Brooklyn :-)

  • TonyA_says

    I was still working for FedEx when the Aramony scandal blew up. I lost belief on the payroll deduction charity system then.
    Much later when I got involved in international outsourcing, I saw many foreign call centers making money calling outbound to the USA asking for donations using American charity brand names. I found out that third parties organized these campaigns and only gave a portion of the collection to the charity. IMO the vast majority of these charaties benefit most their leaders and their pet projects. Maybe the good ones are those you will actually see in the battlefront when there is a catastrophe or real misery. I like doctors without borders. And, I’d rather pass the hat for a down and out family in our community using my wife’s church (Methodist) or the local public school.

  • TonyA_says

    I voted NO. This does not look like a scam to me. Now before you get mad at me, allow me to explain how international shipments work.
    First my background. I have done 3 long moves within the USA. All were close to perfect, and all were done by the big named movers like Allied. All of my moves were done when I worked for FedEx and immediately after I left the company. So, I had all the resources I needed in the shipping industry. Second, my folks own a business that involves international shipping mostly in containers. So I grew up learning many ins and outs of shipping. You have got to be dreaming if you believe in seamless door to door international container shipments. You need to open your wallet if you want to see your goods.
    An international move is very different from a local move.
    Almost always, an international move requires that a container is used for your household goods. A freight forwarder takes that container to the port where it is loaded to a container ship. A combination of trucking or rail might be required to get your container to the correct US shipping port. The job of the freight forwarder is to get your container and all the necessary documents and clearances to the shipping lines. [Important: While the ship can take 1-2 weeks to get to the destination port, ALL your documents should already been sent to the receiving parties. You want to make sure all the documents are correct so customs clearance in the foreign country will be as smooth as possible.]
    Your container will finally get to the destination port. It will be unloaded and checked by Customs. You will need a customs broker to represent you (or whoever is the consignee). If your container is not released immediately, you will be charged for demurrage. You almost must arrange for destination shipping to get the container to its final destination. You are also time limited to unload the container unless you want to pay extra. If the container is unloaded in the local warehouse and the contents moved in a box truck, you will be charged extra destination charges. If your home entry has more steps than standard, you will pay more.
    Because of the complexity involving an international move, you should expect some additional charges. An Allied moving company, or similar, does not do the actual move. All they do is coordinate the move between many physical players. I really doubt the folks in Santiago, Chile could have quoted a fix cost to clear and deliver the contents of her container.

  • Raven_Altosk

    The LOCAL humane society gets a big chunk of my change. I refuse to give to those creepy-tear-jerker ads on TV. That’s that National ASPCA and/or Humane Society and I’m willing to bet dollars to donuts not a dime goes to actually help the animals.

  • Miami510

    Thanks to Christopher and all the posters for an education. In life we learn from mistakes… and in this case, those of others; the unfortunate people who have told their stories. I have a special “S” list. I’ve placed Allied on that list.

  • StarKiller

    If I had to move far enough to need a moving company, I would just sell everything I could and buy stuff when I got there. I don’t think my furniture and appliances would be worth paying to move, anyway.

  • Joe Farrell

    This is an old one but you beat this scam by reading their tariff. We had the same thing occur – after a corporate move, we get a bill two months later for $2000 for 3000lbs overweight . So I asked them for proof of weight. I got one tare of the truck empty before they loaded and one tare before they unloaded. I aksed for fuel receipts as well – which took another 2 months – and yes – the fuel tank was empty when they loaded and had ‘just been topped off’ with 220 gallons of fuel. Thats1573# right there.

    Then I asked for their tariff – it stated in simple language that if they charge you for overweight they promise to weigh the trailer before loading and after loading at the place of origin, and then weigh it before unloading and after unloading at the destination. They did not do that here. Thus, they had no contractual right to collect the money.

    Here is the story I got: “Well, Mr. Farrell, we don’t if it is going to be over-weight until we weight the shipment.”

    So? Your contract with me states that if you intend to charge me for overweight this is how you intend to do it. Any, what about the weight of fuel, that seems an unfair business practice.

    Ok – we will make an ‘accommodation and only charge you for 1000#, given that the fuel weight is possibly an issue. They backed right down there – and I repeated my position that they could not charge me and thank you very much.

    They actually took me to small claims court. I motioned it into Superior Court here in California, and brought an counter-claim for breach of contract and unfair trade practices. This required them to get a lawyer, who promptly called me and asked me for a dismissal if dismissed their case. I said no way. You now owe me $375 for an hour of my time dealing with your BS – which they ended up paying me. so their $2000 claim ended up netting me $375.

    The moral of the story is that their claim is not the do all and end all of the claim – there are controlling documents in the moving business other than the paperwork they use to move you and what it says.

  • Guest

    That’s a very nice story but it doesn’t really apply to the situation here. You had already received your property from the movers. In this case, the driver would not unload the OP’s property until he paid the ransom.

  • MollyS

    OMG! So sorry to hear such a horror story!

  • Travelnut

    No. The last time I checked out a business they’d been rated a B+. Couldn’t find out anything about the business so I took a chance. Huge mistake. I complained to the BBB and they did nothing, in fact the last time I checked those shysters had an A rating. Sickening.

  • Joe

    you still need to know what their tariff says – it does not matter what they try to charge you for . . . .

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Hal makes a good point. Assuming that you are 100% in the right and can prove it. If they are holding your items hostage, it’s a million times harder to fight if you are basically naked because you have no clothes, have no place to sit, have no dishes to eat on, etc.

  • Guest

    I’ve been a long time reader of your column and am surprised that there is no follow up/apology on your part after Allied clarified what actually happened, which I am sure they did for the customer,
    Not really sure you handled this one correctly.

  • Shelly Slader

    So how can I be sure that I get a good moving company in Chicago IL?? I would rather not be scammed or charged extra fees.