Toronto resident feels scammed after paying nearly $1,000 to movers
Posted April 13, 2022 4:37 pm.
Last Updated April 13, 2022 6:57 pm.
A Toronto resident believes she was possibly defrauded by the movers she hired at the end of last month after paying them close to $1,000 for just over three hours of work involving a one-bedroom apartment.
Since last April, Toronto police have been investigating moving company scams, with an alert about an uptick in incidents sent out to residents last December.
“Typically, they entice people with a low price point which the victims believe that they’re going to be paying and then once the belongings are moved onto the truck, they’ll pull over in a parking lot or a gas station and demand an exorbitant amount of money for them to move the rest of their belongings,” explained Toronto Police officer Christopher Long, part of 41 Division’s neighbourhood safety unit, who has been investigating such scams since last April.
Rebecca Felgate from the U.K. has lived in Toronto for seven years. She says she does not have much experience moving homes in the city and feels she experienced something similar to what Long described when moving from a basement apartment with WeePack Movers.
“I feel really stupid for not doing more research, but they were on the number one spot in Google,” she explained to CityNews.
Paying before the job is complete
Felgate had two stops during her move — the first at a storage unit and the second at her boyfriend’s condo.
She chose to ride with the two movers in their van and dropped off some furniture at the storage unit. Felgate says the men were friendly and personable and she did not feel anything was amiss at the time.
When they arrived at the condo, she says the situation became “awkward.”
“There was still a bunch of my most valuable things I was taking to my boyfriend’s house, and they asked me to pay them then before they would unload the rest of the stuff in the van,” she said.
She says they briefly “flashed” an invoice at her for $970 — more than double the $450 they had initially agreed on. When she questioned them about the price hike, she said there was a “shift in energy.”
“I got the feeling that they were taking offense to it,” she said. “[They said] ‘if you do have any questions, take it up with the office, we’ve actually got to be somewhere in an hour, so you need to pay this now.'”
Felgate says she was flustered and needed to have her possessions released, so she sent an email money transfer to an email address provided to her by the movers. The email address had auto-deposit enabled and as such, she was unable to reverse the transfer via her bank when she had doubts later on.
CityNews contacted WeePack movers, who say they often subcontract jobs to other movers but take responsibility for all the moves under their umbrella.
They told us that charges do not change much from initial estimates a majority of the time. However they say customers are informed that the estimate is not the final price and there can be a changes based on how many hours the move takes and how many items are involved.
They deny that their fees can increase to double their estimation however. By law, the final bill for a move cannot be over 10 per cent of the estimate provided. Nevertheless, Felgate says her bill was 115 per cent over the original amount they had discussed.
In addition, WeePack says they ask for payment when the bulk of the items are unloaded, but before completion of the move, in order to protect themselves from customers that try to get away with not paying.
However, combined with the price hike, Long says that’s not acceptable.
“Nobody has the right to hold your belongings and demand more money — that could be an offence under the criminal code – it’s called ‘mischief interfere with property,'” he explained.
Felgate also says it was challenging to get a copy of the invoice and after a few attempts, received one via text message from one of the movers.
It listed several charges that Felgate says were never mentioned — including a “stairs fee,” which she feels was unwarranted. She also claims the move only took three and a half hours, but she was charged for five. Further, the invoice does not list a company address required under the Consumer Protection Act.
WeePack told CityNews they do not operate out of an office. They are an online business with a dispatcher that works from home and reiterated that they subcontract jobs out to other movers as well as lease trucks during busy periods.
When pressed for an office address they said they were located in Woodbridge and Vaughan. A dispatch office address provided did not show any search results.
Red flags to watch for
Long says the first and most significant red flag to watch for is low prices.
“If you’re going to hire a moving company, typically the prices are going to start at a lot higher than these companies are advertising,” he said.
In addition, the lack of a physical address could also be seen as problematic.
“Moving companies, under the Consumer Protection Act of Ontario are required to have the full name of the business, the address, the telephone number,” said Long. “If a company doesn’t have any of those things, that’s definitely a red flag.”
Long says when considering a company that you find online, make sure to comparison shop and call other established companies that list their full address and have been in business longer. If there is a significant discrepancy in their prices, it is possible you’re dealing with an illegitimate company.
Reporting and recourse
Felgate says during the incident, she was alone down an alleyway with two men and felt flustered and intimidated, so she paid them to have her belongings released.
Toronto police say that you can and should call the police if you’re ever in that position.
“We do want people to contact the police. We don’t want people to feel like they are forced to give money in order to get their belongings back. An officer will attend and investigate. If charges are present, we will lay those charges and do what we can to assist the victim,” said Long.
Long adds that if you believe you’ve been defrauded, you can still file a report with police after the fact, along with a report with Consumer Protection Ontario and both agencies will investigate.
“We would work with the Ministry of Labour to lay charges on these companies when necessary so that we can do better to protect the victims,” he said.
Conviction under the Consumer Protection Act for an individual is a fine of not more than $50,000 or imprisonment for not more than two years. For a corporation it is a fine of no more than $250,000.
However, Long adds the chances of recovering your money are slim. You can file a civil suit in small claims court, but it is unlikely to go very far.
“Unfortunately, with a lot of these companies, they aren’t real companies. They’re just posting on online marketplaces, and because of that, they are often difficult to get a hold of,” he said.