U-Haul website MovingHelp.com directs consumers to unlicensed workers

10:28 AM, Feb 3, 2012   |    comments
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Unlicensed movers found on MovingHelp.com taped loading a U-Haul truck during 10 News undercover sting.

TAMPA BAY, Florida -- It's a Fortune 1000 company ignoring Florida law; the 10 News Investigators discovered U-Haul is pushing unlicensed movers on customers, putting consumers at risk.

When renting a truck on UHaul.com or at a U-Haul franchise, consumers are bombarded with ads for "MovingHelp.com" - a UHaul-owned website that provides consumers with "reliable helpers that are better than movers."  The day labor is available to help load, unload, or drive rental trucks.

However, in Florida, it is illegal for laborers to move household goods for a fee without a license.  The state regulates the profession to protect consumers; movers are required to pass background checks and have insurance in case items break or go missing. 

Yet UHaul, who acknowledges that MovingHelp.com is not for licensed professionals that own their own equipment, stands behind its directory.  It makes approximately 15 percent profit on each service booked online.

But the 10 News Investigators confirmed many of those profits are made by encouraging consumers to hire movers on the list who were not licensed with the state.  Movers who cross state lines are regulated by the federal government.

Intrastate movers complaints by county, 2011:
Hillsborough 38
Pinellas 23
Manatee 22
Pasco 9
Polk 6
Hernando 5
Sarasota 4
Citrus 1

An undercover sting (watch the video above!) brought "Moving Helper" Stephon Mikell to help with a mock move.  But Mikell, 39, had no movers' license, drivers' license, or insurance.  He did, however, have several arrests on battery and drug charges.

MovingHelp.com claims customers are getting "safe, affordable and reliable local moving labor services" and that "All Moving Helpers go through a verification process."  Yet UHaul confirms they don't verify moving licenses.  And their background checks are done by a "third party."

MovingHelp.com also claims all "Moving Helpers...must complete the Moving Help certified training class to be active on our website."  Yet Mikell told 10 News all he did was sign up online, watched a few videos, and started getting referrals.

Licensed movers in Tampa Bay say the service puts their work in jeopardy and consumers at risk.

"It's misleading to consumers because they feel like they're getting a mover whose been pre-screened or gone through a verification," said Michelle Shannon with Lakeland's Anytime Moving, Inc.  "There really isn't anything to protect the consumer because there isn't any regulation (unlicensed movers) have to follow."

Florida's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DOACS) said - legally speaking - UHaul may not be responsible because of a bevy of disclaimers on their websites.  But the department was concerned about unlicensed movers in the directory.

"What I think we need to do is get the names of those movers and...get them licensed, or if they refuse to follow the rules, put them out of business," said DOACS' Liz Compton.

The state recommends verifying professional licenses by calling 1-800-HELP-FLA, but MovingHelp.com doesn't even give consumers that option; movers' names aren't provided until payment is made up-front.

UHaul issued a statement defending its website, claiming bad movers are filtered out through customer feedback:

"Since 2002, tens of thousands of Service Providers have signed up with MovingHelp.com.  Customers and their unfiltered feedback, however, have weeded out those whose service is less than excellent.  MovingHelp.com believes that customer feedback used in this manner is the best way to protect future customers."

While negative reviews may protect future customers, there seem to be few protections for the customers who gave the initial negative feedback after a negative experience. 

DOACS advises to only deal with licensed professionals and "cutting corners" by finding cheap help online may not be worth it in this case.

Find 10 News Investigator Noah Pransky on Facebook or follow his updates on Twitter. Send your story tips to noah@wtsp.com.

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