Consumer Protection: Federal Actions Are Needed to Improve Oversight of the Household Goods Moving Industry

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DIANE Publishing, Aug 1, 2001 - 51 pages
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This report discusses: (1) the nature & extent of consumer complaints about household goods carriers since 1996, (2) the roles of consumers in preventing & resolving disputes, & of government agencies in providing consumer protection, (3) The Department of Transportation's oversight & enforcement activities with respect to this industry, & (4) issues associated with an expanded state role in this area. Focuses on commercial moves of individual households & does not discuss interstate moves arranged by governments or corporations for their employees. Charts & tables.
 

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Page 12 - USC 10101 et seq.) as an independent adjudicatory body organizationally housed within the Department of Transportation with jurisdiction over certain surface transportation economic regulatory matters formerly under ICC jurisdiction. The Board consists of three members, appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate for 5-year terms. The Board adjudicates disputes and regulates interstate surface transportation through various laws pertaining to the different modes of surface...
Page 26 - ... the household goods moving industry. 1 To establish how consumer protection for this industry is provided, we determined the Department of Transportation's role with respect to the household goods moving industry, as well as the roles of other federal agencies and the states. To do so, we reviewed the ICC Termination Act of 1995 and the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999. We also reviewed the Department of Transportation's applicable regulations, program guidance, and self-help packages...
Page 8 - ... original cost estimate provided to the consumer. For example, a carrier arrived at the destination with the consumer's goods on the scheduled delivery date but the consumer was not present; the carrier then took the consumer's goods to a storage facility—at an extra cost to the consumer—until the consumer arrived, and the consumer complained about the extra cost. In another example, the consumer failed to obtain complete information about the services, accepting a telephone estimate of the...
Page 22 - We recommend that the Secretary of Transportation direct the Administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to undertake activities that would help it better oversee the industry.
Page 37 - ... examinations on state regulations to obtain authority. While all 12 state offices of the attorney general we contacted said they would bring cases against intrastate carriers for violations of state fraud or business fair practices laws, only 3 of the offices—in New York, Illinois, and Pennsylvania—were pursuing intrastate household goods cases. The states' enforcement authority includes imposing temporary restraining orders and injunctions to halt practices, imposing monetary penalties,...
Page 9 - In addition, some carriers engaged in a practice called "weight bumping," in which they artificially inflated the weight of a shipment by including the weight of another household's goods when calculating the final bill. 5 Consumers have complained that, in some instances, even when they have won judgments against carriers in court, they have been unable to collect damages because the carrier has hidden its assets. *This applies to collect-on-delivery shipments for which nonbinding estimates were...
Page 17 - The databases that each office maintains are "stand-alone"—not electronically linked to each other or to headquarters. This design limits the register's usefulness in oversight and enforcement. According to Department officials, the motor carrier administration plans to create a new, national consumer complaint database by April 2001 for use in enforcement and oversight. While this database will accept complaints from all sources—including the general public—motor carrier administration staff...
Page 34 - ... receives informal complaints from consumers about loss and damage, untimely service, inadequate service, and other matters. The Association advises consumers to file a claim with the mover but also notifies member carriers about any complaints received. The Association does not track the number of such complaints it receives or the nature of the complaints. However, for loss and damage claims that are not resolved to the consumer's satisfaction, the Association keeps a record of how often consumers...
Page 7 - These 2,900 carriers represent a small percentage of the approximately 654,000 commercial ^his estimate includes moves of individual households, moves arranged by governments, and moves arranged by corporations for their employees because industry officials do not separately track moves in these categories. Industry estimates indicate an additional 1.3 million to 1.5 million households move themselves with their own or rented trucks each year. motor carriers engaged in all aspects of interstate commerce...
Page 31 - ... For the 12 division offices we contacted that collected this information, the number of complaints increased from 318 to 659 between 1996 and 1999—an increase of 107 percent. (See fig. 1.) About 75 percent of these complaints came from the division offices in three states—California, New Jersey, and New York. However, the number of consumer complaints is understated because the division offices said they did not record all complaints—such as those made by telephone. Two other division offices...

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