PORTLAND, Ore. – Moving can be dangerous ... for your bank account and your memories.
Our investigation revealed shady movers on the Internet waiting for you to fall into their trap. What is that trap? It's a fake online bidding war, where the bidders hope to walk away with the items in the truck.
That appears to be the case with Ken Johnson, who recently moved to Portland. "Boxes were opened, boxes were missing," Johnson said. He figures about 12 boxes are missing.
The movers, he said, also stuffed all of his things into a secret storage unit and "held them hostage" – demanding more money than the original contract. "It was total extortion," he said.
It started last fall in Kansas City. Johnson went online to find a mover, found a low bid and signed on. From that moment on, however, he said "it was a completely different story."
Johnson flew to Portland, expecting his items to arrive by a Miracle Movers truck any day. But though Miracle Movers had loaded up his things, the truck never arrived.
That's when Johnson called the owner of the moving company, Derric Fozard in North Carolina.
"That's when he told me, 'I don't know where your stuff is; we can't find it [and] we don't know where it went to,''" Johnson said.
A month later, Miracle Movers called back: "Mr. Johnson, we found your truck and it's on its way to Portland and will be there Saturday."
However, now the movers said they would not deliver his belongs until he paid more – a lot more, Johnson said.
"It's going to be triple what we told you it's going to be," Johnson said they told him. "And I said, 'I don't think so. That's not how contracts work.'"
They told him the change in price came because his stuff weighed more than the original estimate. However, when he asked them to weigh it at a scale for him - which is his right under the law – he said they refused: "Derric Fozard said, 'If you don't give me my money, I'm just going to sell everything," Johnson tells us. "He said 'I'm going to go through it and sell everything of value; I'm going to sell it and throw the rest of it away, so you decide what you want to do."
Johnson said he finally gave in, thinking of his photos that he could never replace. "They would not tell me where it was until I gave them $1,600," he said.
His things were in the Yakima/Tri-Cities area, and weren't in the condition they had been packed up in. For example, "the wheels were broken off the cabinets," he said. "And there was a back to this buffet that doesn't exist anymore; it was broken, just broken off."
So Johnson rented a U-Haul, drove up to Yakima and moved it all into the U-Haul truck to bring the items back to Portland. What he found were items broken, ripped, lost and dirty.
"They had cut themselves, and bled all over my mattress," Johnson said. "They had left, at some point, that couch in a warehouse in water
and the entire front is stained."
Johnson filed complaints against Miracle Movers. It turned out that this was not the first time for complaints against Derric Fozard and his company.
Eva Farrell said her move went bad five years ago: "I definitely want my money back," she said.
The move went badly for Susan Bailey too, who said she never even got her things back after her move about the same time.
After Bailey's move, Derric Fozard expressed sorrow: "I felt very bad," he told our ABC affiliate in North Carolina. "I still feel very very bad; I mean, I cried."
This time, he has changed his attitude. "I don't have anything to do with that," he said to WTVD-TV's camera crew.
He paid Eva Farrell a judgment of several hundred dollars, but still owes Susan Bailey almost $100,000. Meanwhile, he is telling the WTVD investigative reporter that the Portland problems are Johnson's fault.
"We went all the way to [expletive] Portland, Oregon, to drop the man's stuff," Fozard said on camera. "We went all the way to Portland and he didn't want to take his stuff."
Moving "safety" tips
You will want to be very careful on the Internet. Some Web sites will give you multiple quotes that are really all from the same company, something consumer experts say is an attempt to trick you into a low-ball price, only to have your property held hostage or disappear.
Those experts said the way to protect yourself is to make sure someone comes to your house, in person, for the estimate. Check to see if they have their license and if they have complaints (see related links below).
Experts also said that a dead giveaway for a potentially fraudulent mover is when their company name is nearly the same as one of the big, legitimate movers. They said a better way to shop for a mover, other than on the Internet, is to ask friends for recommendations.
In the end, if you have any doubts don't let them load up your goods. Otherwise, "every single thing you own is gone," Johnson said.
He wishes he had done the move himself, saying the miracle now is ending up with anything at all.
"I want him to be stopped," Johnson says now of his reason for coming to KATU with his story, "so no one else has to go through this."
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration looks into complaints about movers between states. Johnson filed a complaint against Miracle Movers with that agency, but so far has received no word about whether the agency has finished investigating or has taken any action against the company.