Taken for a ride? Rise of Internet moving brokers leads to abuses
At a committee hearing on Sept. 20, the president and chief legal counsel of Budget Van Lines, Jason Romrell, defended his company's broker model. He cast his company as a service that brings customers and qualified motor carriers together — saving both money and hassle.
"The services we provide create a win-win situation for both consumers and household goods motor carriers," he said.
Romrell also said because his company is a broker and not the carrier, it is limited under federal regulations as to how much control it can have over the operation of the motor carriers it brokers the jobs to.
Help for consumers
At the committee hearing on Sept. 20, Anne S. Ferro, administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, said consumers often hire companies with the lowest estimate "instead of confirming that the company is safe and has a good customer service record."
The FMCSA has a website, ProtectYourMove.gov, which allows people to search by carrier or broker name and Motor Carrier and Department of Transportation license numbers. The listings show complaints and whether the company is a carrier or a broker. The FMCSA website also has a fraud prevention checklist to help people avoid the problems the Senate committee is investigating.
Ferro said in the committee hearing that the new surface transportation reauthorization law, "Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century," gave the agency new tools to combat problems of hostage goods such as Gonzalez experienced when she moved to Florida.
Starting in October 2012, Ferro said, "FMCSA (has) the authority to require the return of hostage goods loads to consumers and may also direct a portion of a civil penalty to reimburse consumers for their financial losses."
For Gonzalez, it may be too late, and there are still no criminal penalties. But the committee investigation shows some movement in that direction.