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Movers have record of complaints

We hired Father & Son Movers this summer to move us from Winthrop, Maine, to Largo. A Mr. Hogan came to our house and gave us a binding estimate of $2,979 based on 7,250 pounds. The cost included $178 worth of insurance to cover $21,000 in replacement value.

We asked if the moving truck would have a problem with access because we lived on a narrow one-way street. Mr. Hogan said there would be no problem.

The nightmare began when the moving van arrived. The driver was Butch from Family Moving & Storage. He said Father & Son subcontracted work out to other movers.

Butch complained that he could not get his truck close to our house. He got angry and said he was sick of appraisers arranging difficult pickups. He threatened to leave.

We were in a desperate situation since we had to be out of the house the next day.

Butch called his office and handed the phone to us. A person named Frances said they could not move us unless we either hired three of their men at $100 each (in cash) to load the truck or pay another $600 to hire a shuttle truck.

Since we had both just lost our jobs and barely broke even on the sale of the house, we had no choice but to hire the three men. Meantime I tried repeatedly to reach Mr. Hogan without success.

Two hours later when the truck was loaded I noticed there were two amounts on the shipping document _ one for $2,979 and the other for $3,277. Butch said we might have to pay the higher amount in addition to the $300 because it was a "long carry."

He also asked if we could pay in cash upon delivery because the company was 60 days behind in paying its independent drivers (which was a shock to us since Mr. Hogan had assured us he used all company trucks and drivers).

When our goods were delivered, Butch had added $109 for excessive distance carry and, without my authority, had increased our insurance coverage so that the premium was $221.

Butch said the insurance was automatically adjusted when the weight was more than estimated. He never did tell us the actual weight nor does it show up on my bill of lading. If I didn't pay, Butch said he would not unload my goods.

I called Family Moving and they confirmed what Butch said, but they could not tell me what the total weight was, either.

Several things were damaged during the move. The claim form sent by Family Moving states the company is not responsible for anything that was not packed, unpacked and inspected by them. They did not tell me that when I bought the insurance.

I think other unsuspecting people should be alerted to these practices.

James J. Morello

Response: You were being sent a release in the amount of $300 "for compensation as well as for his claim of damages," said Noelia Smith of Family Moving claim's department.

She said the company apologized for the problems you experienced and has dealt with the individuals involved.

Ms. Smith did not say why the actual weight of the shipment is not listed anywhere or why you are being offered $300 when your claims amounted to $414 plus the $451 you paid over and above your $2,979 binding estimate.

Family Moving & Storage is home based in Lauderhill, Fla. According to the Florida Attorney General's office, the company changed its name from Father & Son Moving.

In fact, said Jose Gonzalez of the Hollywood Attorney General's office, Father & Son Moving has been doing business under 16 business names at one time or another. The Attorney General's office sued them all in 1992 for a variety of things, Gonzalez said, under the state's Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.

The companies were alleged to have engaged in "low balling," in which customers are given very low estimates with the knowledge that the charge will be much more. Once the goods are loaded on a truck, they are held hostage until the mover is paid. If a customer doesn't pay, his goods are put into storage and he is charged additional money for that.

Florida does not regulate interstate moves, Gonzalez said. That's why his office sued under the Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.

Gonzalez said the state won an appeal last month to a trial court ruling that the act was not applicable to low balling. Now Family Movers is appealing that decision.

Because Florida has no jurisdiction over interstate moves and because there are some questions left unanswered in your case, you may wish to file a written complaint with the Interstate Commerce Commission, 3535 Market St., Suite 16400, Philadelphia, PA 19104.

The Pinellas County Consumer Affairs office has a record of 11 complaints against Father & Son Moving & Storage since 1989.

Action solves problems and gets answers. If you have a question or your own attempts to resolve a consumer complaint have failed, write: Times Action, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or call your Action number, (813) 893-8171, to leave a recorded request for Action.

Requests will be accepted only by mail or on our voice mail system; calls cannot be returned. We will not be responsible for personal documents, so please send only photocopies. If your complaint concerns merchandise ordered by mail, we need copies of both sides of your canceled check.

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