By Deborah Wong, Senior Features/Op-eds Editor
“You have to send the money now, $350 right now”
“I was told over the phone there would be no deposit necessary”
“No, there is. You need to send the money now”
“Can I wait for my boyfriend to come downstairs? I want to discuss this with him”
“No. It is just a deposit. Just send it now! Just e-transfer it now!”
This was the exchange between the mover and I. He was inches away from my face and kept coming closer. Sirens blared in my head. I had very limited time to move my stuff as I had the moving elevator in my new apartment booked. My hands were tied.
This was the beginning of my entanglement with a moving scam— one that was not only a financial nightmare but an emotional one.
Two weeks ago, I found this moving company on Kijiji, they were kind on the phone and gave me an extremely reasonable quote. They promised there would not be any additional or hidden charges while assuring that an apartment as small as mine would not take more than 3 hours.
After I had e-transferred $350 over, he pulled a contract out of his pocket for me to sign. I was bewildered: why am I signing this after paying and not before?! The mover assured me that this contract was to merely prove that I had paid the deposit. I signed it.
They started moving my furniture into the truck. I was promised the service of two movers but only one man was working. The other stood on the side on his phone. My boyfriend, Stephen, had to do most of the heavy lifting.
I had a coffee table that I no longer needed and had indicated to the movers to not put it in the truck first. However, they immediately began inspecting it for damages and once they realized it was in perfect condition, began taking pictures of it. Silently, I questioned, “Are they trying to sell my coffee table? I didn’t even say they could take it!”
When everything was in the truck and we were ready to go, I told them to meet us at the new apartment. Once on their truck, the movers refused to drive out of the loading bay, claiming that I did not e-transfer them the money. Even with the e-transfer proof on my phone, they only shook their heads and began accusing me of sending the e-transfer to a friend’s email instead. We were baffled.
Stephen tried to explain to them that we were on a time crunch. The truck was holding up the loading bay that we had booked and the hour was almost up. Taking up the bay for longer than the agreed-upon time would cost us the $500 deposit we put down with the building.
Stephen had no choice but to hand them another $350 in cash. By then, they already had $700 from us, even when we previously agreed with them that no deposit was required. After taking the cash, the movers looked at each other and started whispering. They turned to us and exclaimed they wanted another $350 before they drove to the new place.
We realized what they were doing and told them we no longer want to work with them and would like our furniture and deposit back. One of them got aggressive, insisting that they will do their job if they receive a whopping $1050 “deposit”. It is also important to note that they were charging us by the hour and the longer this was delayed, the more they can charge us.
I asked them to hand me the contract they made me sign earlier. Lo and behold, a fine print at the bottom specified that all deposits are non-refundable. Worse yet, they were holding our furniture hostage.
At this point, we thought things couldn’t get worse, but they did. Stephen was seated in the truck with the movers, so they told him to get out of the car seat to sit on a styrofoam box instead. When he sat on it, it inevitably broke. The mover blew up, and aggressively berated Stephen for “breaking his stuff on purpose.” He demanded for compensation and when we refused, he began calling the police to report their broken styrofoam box. We overheard them reporting to the cops that Stephen had deliberately and violently broken various items in their car, which was not true.
A false police report, my boyfriend being yelled at, our furniture being held hostage, and the movers continually demanding more money resulted in a frightened and flustered me calling the cops to help resolve the situation.
We spent the next two hours talking to the cops to have them mediate the conflict. The movers began lying to the cops, exclaiming that they were perfectly fine with just a $700 deposit and that it was us who were holding them back from completing their job.
Eventually, with the guidance of the police, the movers reluctantly drove the furniture to our new place. However, as we refused to pay them more, they simply dropped the furniture in front of the building and left.
After speaking with the cops on how to seek justice, I was advised to take this issue up to small claims court. As proof of the incident, I have the bogus contract, the company name and number as well as the assurance of the officers to be my witnesses. I am confident in my case against this company.
To quote one of the officers, “All you can do now is to make their lives hell, teach them a lesson to never do this again to others.” Dragging someone to court will be arduous, it may take up a good amount of my time. However, I am not doing this to get the money I lost back, but to prevent others from going through what I did, especially other students.
Advice: Red Flags to Watch Out For
To my lack of knowledge at the time, moving scams are actually quite common—I mean, they even have their own Wikipedia page. The pattern? They quote you a cheap or reasonable price, they show up, move all your stuff into their truck and then quote you a rate exponentially higher than what was agreed upon. Now, your belongings are used as a lien until they get paid the amount they want.
If getting a recommendation from a friend or family member is not an option, doing your due diligence before hiring a moving company is a must. First of all, as tempting as the prices on Kijiji, Facebook Marketplace, or eBay are, do not hire movers from these sites (especially if they are on Ontario’’s Ministry of Government and Consumer Services’ online Consumer Beware List). Instead, search for legitimate registered companies with their own websites. Scammers who operate on platforms like Kijiji regularly disappear and change their company name every few months. Moreover, read the reviews and be wary of “fake” online reviews; if the company has hundreds of 5-star reviews with little to no comprehensive comments, that is a clear red flag. Lastly, get the quote in writing instead of over a phone call; get a clear written statement of everything they will charge you for, along with their terms and conditions.
The moving scam main takeaway? If the price is too good to be true, it probably is.