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Be careful Fake movers in Houston and surrounding areas in Texas

~Houston Chronicle

The ads from the moving companies on Craigslist were enticing. A flat rate. No hidden fees.

But the first sign that the promotions might not be as advertised was when the movers pressured consumers to sign contracts with “very small print.”

Dozens of people in cities around the state report being victimized by scam artists based in Houston who posed as a legitimate moving company through Craigslist posts.

The customers looking for an inexpensive move say they’ve been ripped off or robbed by the fake movers, who wore professional uniforms, rented large moving vans and required signed contracts riddled with hidden fees, such as $90 per item wrapped in plastic.

Two of the principal suspects involved in what investigators call “hostage moves” are now in custody in Harris County after an investigation by the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Houston Police Department connected them to the crimes from March to September of last year. The Better Business Bureau of Houston said this group of con artists has been active for years.

Elusive group

Anthony Fanelli, 37, and Andy Trinidad Bueno, 33, have been charged with securing execution of document by deception, according to court records from the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.

The group has been elusive, as they frequently changed the name of the business used and adopted fake identities, said BBB spokeswoman Monica Russo, who participated in an undercover operation in October and saw the suspects in action.

Court records show the suspects stole property or money from at least 20 victims around the state.

Investigators said Fanelli would pose as the owner of a legitimate moving company that promised a flat rate moving fee for $39.99 an hour and would then present the customer with an inflated bill that some reported reached more than $1,500. Investigators believe the scheme also took place in Dallas, San Antonio and Austin.

The victims said the moving crew would arrive in a rented van at the residence. Bueno, posing as the foreman of the crew, would typically present a contract for moving services and pressure them to sign quickly, court records show. After they signed the agreement, Fanelli would fill in blank portions of the contract and prepare an invoice with extra fees and surcharges, including charges for plastic wrap, walking up stairs and gas, according to records.

Inflated invoices

Once the household’s goods were loaded and locked into the truck, Bueno would typically present the inflated invoice. Fanelli would pose as the owner of the company over the phone if people called to complain and would negotiate the price or trade household items in exchange for the fee, the complaint states.

Several victims reported that the men not only attempted to charge higher rates, but also drove off with the trucks that contained all their possessions when they refused to pay.

During one incident, Houston resident Jindu Okwuwa refused to pay the inflated charge and the suspects left with the van, containing the man’s belongings. He told investigators that the value was estimated at $20,000.

Many victims identified Fanelli and Bueno from photo lineups, and investigators searched Craigs- list records to tie the men to the incidents, according to court records. Bueno has previously been convicted of assault of a family member, and Fanelli has been convicted of forgery, records show.

Russo advised consumers to check a moving company’s registration with the state, to get quotes in advance in writing and contact police if movers try to hold property hostage.

http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Hostage-moves-scam-dozens-of-consumers-across-3445889.php#photo-2754731

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COVID-19 Update

As a COVID-19 essential service, we are open for business and are committed to providing safe and efficient moving services to our customers.

Our Commitment to You

We are committed to moving you safely. In these unprecedented times, we take our role as essential service providers very seriously. We will continue to provide services while following recommendations from the CDC and the WHO while working to protect our customers and front-line employees.

Limiting in-person contact is the best practice when limiting the spread of COVID-19. While our business requires we enter the residence to provide packing and loading services, we can conduct the quote process via virtual survey.  While the staff is working remotely, they are available to customers, agents and drivers during the same business hours and in the same manner as if they were working in the office.

As you plan and prepare for your move, here are some steps you can take:

 

  • Rather than greeting the crew with handshakes, greet them in some other way, verbally for instance.
  • To ensure everyone’s health and safety, if you or anyone within your household may have contracted Coronavirus, or are isolating due to exposure to the virus, call us and explain the situation; in many cases, we will try to work with you
  • If you must cancel your move, be sure to ask questions about how we are managing cancellations now
  • Your health and the health of your family is important. If you are in a vulnerable group, over 60 or have a compromised immune system, schedule your move after the pandemic is over if it is at all possible.
  • Provide the moving crew access to a sink, soap and paper towels throughout your move. If this isn’t practical, and it is readily available, provide hand sanitizer
  • Purchase new moving boxes and tape; this isn’t the time to use recycled boxes from online sources and free sites or from stores
  • If you have not already purchased food for the next couple of weeks, you’ll want to stock up on items that you eat regularly. Any shelf-stable items can be donated to Move For Hunger before your move to lighten your load
  • When moving long distances, you may want to fly in to meet your moving truck. Be sure that you book refundable plane tickets and select hotels that offer free cancellation. Ask about cancellation policies before you book, and remember to read