Taken from the May 1, 2016 News-Press, Ft. Myers, FL
May is the second busiest time for car transport companies, second only to the week between Christmas and New Year’s, says Jeannie Phillips, a transport specialist for Young’s Transport Inc. in Fort Myers. And Philips said, it’s a prime time for people to get ripped off.
Phillips was responding to a column I wrote about David Chu who relocated to Cape Coral from New York. Chu’s two automobiles were damaged in transport. But the company he contracted with, Suncoast Auto Transport Inc., told him he would have to take it up with the two companies that transported the cars. They – and their insurance companies – aren’t paying for the damage. The insurance companies aren’t paying because the damage is less than the companies’ deductibles. The two companies aren’t paying because they are blaming each other for the damage.
The problem, Phillips said, is that Chu contracted with a broker rather than directly with an auto transport company. The broker is bonded to cover the carriers in case the broker backs out of paying them. The bond, she said, “really does nothing for the consumer.”
Phillips said brokers offer low prices to customers but can have trouble finding a carrier to agree to that low price. That’s why people will often complain the cars weren’t picked up or delivered on time. The broker is scrambling to find someone to take the job at that price. And in the worst cases, brokers take the money and then abandon the customer.
That happened with New York auto transport broker Gregory Sclafani who defrauded customers who paid his company, USA Logistics, to transport their vehicles.
Sclafani advertised on the Internet. Customers would contact him and pay by providing a bank account and routing numbers for an e-check. Sclafani would take the money and not pick up or deliver the cars. He would then sometimes use the bank account information to create more checks and withdraw money from customers’ accounts. Sclafani pleaded guilty to mail fraud on March 31.
Phillips said Sclafani operated for more than seven years before he was indicted. People, not wanting to admit they were ripped off, wouldn’t complain. And although there are reputable brokers, she said, there are plenty like Sclafani out there. They operate solely on the Internet and provide fake, glowing online reviews that make customers believe they are reliable.
It’s sometimes hard to distinguish a broker from a carrier, Phillips said. The easiest way to do this is to ask the company for its seven digit USDOT number. Brokers will not have this number. It is only issued to carriers.
Once you get the number you can research your carrier on the DOT’s Protect Your Move website (https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/protect-your-move). This website is also a good resource for household moves that also can be plagued by unscrupulous brokers and carriers.
Here are a few more tips for people who are looking to move their cars:
Don’t provide any bank information over the phone or Internet that would allow the company to access your bank account for payment.
Be wary of a company that won’t accept credit card payments. Merchant services cut off companies that have too many customer disputed charges.
Check the history of the company on reputable websites such as the one run by the DOT. Many websites allow companies to pay money to get better ratings and to keep bad reviews from posting.
Don’t fall for extra charges on things such as “expedited shipping” or other add-ons.
Ask friends and neighbors for recommendations,
Don’t automatically go with whoever is offering the lowest price. You have a lot invested in your automobiles and you need to make sure they are handled with care.
If you have a bad experience with a car transport company file a complaint with the DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (https://nccdb.fmcsa.dot.gov/nccdb/home.aspx).
For more information on this topic, I suggest watching Young’s Transport’s video on youtube. As for Chu, he is going to small claims court to try to recoup the money for damage to his cars. That’s his only recourse. I wish him luck and I will keep you updated on his progress.