Headaches and Heartaches for Couple That Used South Florida Moving Company

Terri and Terrance Thomas say they paid Ryder Moving and Storage of Pompano Beach $4,500 to move their belongings, which vanished. The company is now closed.

By Sandra Esquivel and Myriam Masihy
|  Thursday, Feb 6, 2014  |  Updated 6:01 PM EDT
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Terri and Terrance Thomas know firsthand the headaches and heartaches of handing their money to a mover without doing their homework. NBC 6's Myriam Masihy reports.

Terri and Terrance Thomas know firsthand the headaches and heartaches of handing their money to a mover without doing their homework. NBC 6's Myriam Masihy reports.

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If you need to hire a mover, beware. The Better Business Bureau gets more than a million complaints a year about bad moving experiences. According to the BBB, the moving and storage business is one of the most complained about industries in the country.

Terri and Terrance Thomas know firsthand the headaches and heartaches of handing their money to a mover without doing their homework. They paid Ryder Moving and Storage out of Pompano Beach $4,500 to move their belongings from Zephyrhills, Florida to Everett, Washington just before Thanksgiving.

“From the time they picked up our stuff, I could never get a hold of them again,” said Terri Thomas.

The Thomases said phone calls weren’t returned. Their belongings simply vanished.

“He just stole my money, my merchandise, my faith, my trust and he doesn’t care. And that’s what kills me. He doesn’t care,” Terri Thomas said.

The family said it had to replace vital items, such as a fridge and tools that Terrance Thomas needs to work as a handyman. But many items couldn’t be replaced.

“Our wedding pictures, my baby – our kids’ pictures …all I can think is they’re going to sit somewhere and rot,” Terri Thomas said as she wiped away a tear.

She said a salesman from Ryder Moving and Storage convinced her over the phone that she was in good hands and dealing with an A-plus rated company.

In fact, the BBB gives the company an F rating.

The Thomases also said they were led to believe that they were dealing with the nationally known truck rental company, Ryder. It turns out they were not.

Last July, a federal court ordered Ryder Moving and Storage to stop using the name. A federal judge said the company was using the name to “deceive potential customers into hiring” them.

The Thomases aren’t alone. Robert Rutkowski, a detective with the Broward Sheriff’s Office, said he has received calls for help from Ryder Moving and Storage customers across the country.

“I don’t think he had the resources, the logistics to run a moving company,” said Rutkowski, referring to Josh Socher, the owner of the company. Rutkowski is now on a mission to try to reunite people with their belongings. .

After getting a call from Rutkowski about items found in a warehouse in Pompano Beach, Terrance Thomas borrowed $5,000 from his 401K to make the trip back to Florida hoping to confirm the property belonged to his family. The Team 6 Investigators were with him when he arrived in Pompano Beach. He said he was worried about whether the investment of time and money was going to pay off.

“Tools and things I can replace – my son’s first haircut, my daughter’s blanket, my grandma’s water pitcher. I can’t replace that. Those are things – my grandma’s dead,” Terrance Thomas said as he fought back tears.

Rutkowski escorted him into the building that once housed Ryder’s offices and one of its warehouses. The company is now closed. Inside the building was a mess: scattered papers and files, and unopened letters, including one from Arizona’s attorney general about a complaint that the company hadn’t responded to. But amidst the chaos, the Thomases found the answer to their prayers.

“This is all my stuff,” Terrance Thomas said as he looked at a mound of tools, packed furniture and boxes full of personal mementos.

But next to the Thomases’ belongings sit piles of other items that belong to other people. The detective is still trying to get those to the right owners.

“We just don’t know who it belongs to – nothing’s labeled,” Rutkowski said.

The detective said that while those owners haven’t been found, they are actually lucky because their property is safe. He said another Ryder customer had her belongings auctioned off in Pompano after Ryder put their items in storage but didn’t pay the storage fees. He fears other families may be in the same dilemma and not even know it.

The Team 6 Investigators tracked down the company’s former chief operating officer in North Carolina. He asked that we not use his name because he’s had trouble finding work because of his association with Ryder. “I would tell him, Josh, the storage units are going to auction off this load. You have to pay it,” he said. “And then he would never pay it. And there were customers that were sending in storage payments to us. We were taking their payments from their credit cards for storage and he wasn’t paying the units that their stuff was in and it would get auctioned off.”

Florida’s attorney general has more than 70 complaints against Ryder. One customer said his items were “being held hostage” and another complained the company “damaged most of my big … items.” The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the agency which regulates the industry, shut down Ryder’s interstate operations and fined the company more than $50,000 for “false and deceptive billing” among other violations.

The Team 6 Investigators tracked down Socher in his Cooper City home, a house that is now on the market for more than half a million dollars. Socher blamed most of the problems on his company’s former chief operating officer.

“I’m a victim based on my COO – what he did to me. He split and ran and left everything in my lap when it wasn’t even my department and I wasn’t even experienced in it,” Socher said.

Socher said he is cooperating with the Department of Transportation.

“Believe you me, I feel horrible about all these people. That’s why I’ve been working with these people for the last month … I’ve been trying to make sure everyone gets their things. I feel terrible,” Socher said.

Mike Galvin, a spokesperson for the Better Business Bureau of South Florida, said what happened to the Thomas family is a story he hears often.

Galvin said moving and storage always ranks in the top 10 complaints across the country – and especially in South Florida.

Galvin said that while there are many good moving companies, some end up contracting the work out to others who are incapable of doing the work.

“There’s too many renegades …who are out there renting trucks and just pretending to be movers,” Galvin said.

He said the first critical step in hiring a good mover is making sure the company has an “A” or “B” rating with the BBB.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has created a website with tips to prevent customers from getting ripped off by bad movers. The site, which also allows consumers to search their database of company complaints, is www.protectyourmove.gov.

The FMCSA says beware of companies that:

• Don’t agree to an on-site inspection of your household goods

• Demand cash or large deposits before your move

• Send a rental truck to pick up your goods rather than a company-owned and marked truck

• Ask you to sign blank or incomplete documents

Galvin also recommends asking for a binding estimate. This guarantees the total cost of the move cannot exceed the estimate as long as the customer does not add items to the move. A non-binding estimate is what a mover believes the cost will be and, exactly as it sounds, the mover is not bound by the estimate.

For now, the Thomases precious belongings will remain in storage in central Florida. They say they don’t have the money to move them to Washington, but at least they know where they are.

In the meantime, Socher says he’s getting out of the moving business for good.

“I’ve been doing it for five years. I think I’m done,” he said. “I think I’m getting my real estate license.”

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