Consumers who filed complaints with the Division alleged that Moving Max, Inc., offered artificially low moving estimates, and then once in possession of consumers’ personal property, threatened to hold those items unless a higher payment — at times double the price agreed to — was paid immediately and in cash or by money order.
The Division of Consumer Affairs filed suit in July 2014, maintaining in its 10-count complaint that Moving Max, Inc., and both Adam and Oziel Eliad committed multiple violations of the Public Movers and Warehousemen Licensing Act and its related regulations, and the Consumer Fraud Act. The Eliads also allegedly violated terms of a February 2007 Final Consent Judgment related to a former moving company they owned.
“By way of this settlement, consumers who were victimized by the Eliads will have their hard-earned money returned to them,” Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman said. “We’re also protecting consumers who in the future may need to hire a moving company by barring the Eliads from the moving and warehouse industry in New Jersey.”
The investigation conducted by Division of Consumer Affairs revealed that the defendants allegedly provided consumers with artificially low quotes via the Internet. These quotes ranged from approximately $225 to $921. But after loading consumers’ property onto a moving truck, defendants demanded payment grossly in excess of the quoted prices, ranging from approximately $500 to $1,665.
The defendants attempted to justify these increased amounts with exorbitant and bogus charges that they had not disclosed or discussed with consumers beforehand. These charges included unnecessary packing charges; use of tape and blankets that were not actually necessary or even used; and even an “EPA” fee when no such fee was included in the company’s tariff, which is a a formal schedule of rates and charges filed with the Division of Consumer Affairs.
When customers protested these increased amounts, the defendants allegedly threatened to drive off and retain the consumers’ personal belongings until payment was made by cash or money order.
The lawsuit also alleged, among other things, that the defendants: failed to conduct pre-move onsite surveys of the consumers’ belongings; failed to provide consumers with a copy of the State-mandated brochure, “Important Notice to Consumers Using Public Movers;” intentionally concealed contractual forms so they could not be read by consumers, who were then pressured to sign the forms without adequate review; and failed to provide consumers with a written estimate or a formal contract.
“Moving Max allegedly unlawfully charged consumers with excessive fees and added costs when these consumers were most vulnerable, when consumers’ possessions were already loaded on the moving truck. Faced with seeing their belongings driven off, many consumers felt helpless and paid those fees. With this settlement, the money spent to pay these unlawful fees and bogus charges will soon be returned to the affected consumers,” said Steve Lee, Acting Director of the State Division of Consumer Affairs.
The remaining $347,622 in civil penalties and investigative costs and attorneys’ fees are suspended because the Eliads do not have the financial ability to make such payment at this time. The Eliads are required to submit state and federal tax returns to the Division of Consumer Affairs for the next five years. If either defendant reaches certain income levels, payment of the suspended civil penalties and cost and fee reimbursements must begin.
Investigator Vincent Buonanno of the Division of Consumer Affairs Office of Consumer Protection conducted the investigation.
Deputy Attorney General Patricia Schiripo, Assistant Chief of the Consumer Fraud Prosecution Section in the Division of Law, represented the State in this action.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file a complaint with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.