IT HAPPENED TO ME: Movers Stole All of My Belongings

I was told to expect delivery by the third week of June. Alarm bells went off in my head after July 4 came and went.
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Katie Smith
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I was told to expect delivery by the third week of June. Alarm bells went off in my head after July 4 came and went.

Two days after I graduated from college, I moved to Los Angeles to work in entertainment. I made the cross-country trip with a car trunk full of clothes and little else. Four years and four jobs later, I made the surprisingly easy decision to move back home to Maryland earlier this year. My lease was up, and I put in my two weeks notice. As I prepared to head back to the East Coast, I was buoyed by a refreshing sense of freedom.

In between lining up job interviews, selling my beat-up old car, and booking a flight, I tried to figure out how to get my stuff across the country. I had to choose between selling it all, shipping it all, and booking movers. Getting rid of everything seemed time-consuming and wasteful; I had just outfitted the apartment with decor and furniture I loved. The idea of packing up my entire apartment and driving it, box by box, to a shipping center in order to send it back at an exorbitantly high price seemed impractical. Barreling down the path of least resistance, I began to investigate cross-country movers. 

I found a site that asked for my start and end locations and the time frame of my move. Once I submitted the information, my phone began blowing up. Moving companies that had seen my request and wanted my business inundated my inbox. I skimmed through the onslaught of messages and heard a few quotes before I received a call from a friendly girl named Christine from a company called Map Systems Inc. She quoted me the tidy price of $1,500 and asked for a $500 deposit. She explained I would owe $500 upon pickup and another $500 upon delivery. The delivery would take approximately three weeks. I was sold.

I spent Memorial Day weekend compartmentalizing the contents of my one-bedroom apartment into boxes of various sizes. The morning the movers arrived, a burly middle-aged man with a friendly way about him discussed the logistics of the move with me as two other men loaded the truck. When I explained I planned to give away my mattress and box spring for free on Craigslist, the man in charge insisted there was room on the truck. In my mind, I imagined moving into another apartment and furnishing it in a similar fashion to the one I was leaving behind; buying a new bed when I had a perfectly good one seemed frivolous. So off it went, along with box after box of my carefully packed things: a new flat-screen TV, my leather jacket, my winter coat, clothes for all seasons and occasions, kitchen supplies and appliances, furniture and knickknacks, and framed photos and artwork I made or received as gifts.

Once the truck was loaded, the man announced that, in fact, my belongings had gone over the allotted space for the move, and he'd have to adjust my estimate. My original quote of $1,500 for the move was jacked up to $4,235, and he needed more than half of the total payment then and there. Shocked, I took out my credit card and was flatly told that they wouldn't accept a credit card, only a check. My stomach dropped. I felt cornered. I had already sold my car, and my flight out was at 6 a.m. the next day. I called my dad on the phone, and he generously agreed to help me cover the cost. I went ahead and wrote a check for $2,614.50 to Green Moving, the carrier assigned to my move by Map Systems. I was upset and embarrassed that, at the age of 26, I still needed my parents to bail me out financially. I rationalized what had just happened, figuring that as long as everything arrived, the cost of the movers would be justified. The value of everything from the last four years of my life had to be more than a few thousand dollars.

The next morning, the check cleared. With two suitcases of my favorite summer clothes, I flew home with the cat I had adopted from a shelter the summer before, snug in a carrier under the seat in front of me.

Once I got back to Maryland, my life started to fall into place, a welcome sign that moving home had been the right choice. Within a week, I started a new job working in fitness, something I'd dreamed of since I had discovered that workout classes and the endorphins that followed were the antidote to long, isolated days at my various desk jobs.

As the summer went on, I wondered when all of my stuff would arrive. Originally, I was told to expect delivery by June 21. Alarm bells went off in my head after July 4 came and went. 

I called Map Systems for updates and never received a concrete answer. I dug out the contract I had signed and saw the contact information listed Home Safe Moving, based out of Florida, rather than Green Moving, based out of LA. My stomach sank as I read the Yelp pages for both of those companies. The reviews were scathing, and the message was clear: All three companies were complicit in a scam. So many other people had been scammed before me. My stuff was gone.

The wonderfully ironic contract from "Home Safe Moving."

The wonderfully ironic contract from "Home Safe Moving."

Panicked, I contacted the local police. An officer came by, and I explained the situation. Since none of the action had taken place in their jurisdiction, there was nothing he could do. I called the LAPD, and they said to file a report at my local police station since they couldn't file a report over the phone for a situation like this. 

Part of me still wanted to believe my stuff would show up, but other people's experiences suggest otherwise. Circling back with Map Systems, Green Moving, and Home Safe, each person I spoke to kept saying to wait five more days, three more days, it's still in LA and will be shipped out today, five more days...

More than two months after I left LA, I'm still dealing with the fallout from trusting the wrong company. Because there were so many companies under different names in different states involved, it's difficult to know where to start in terms of taking action and getting retribution. A friend of a friend heard about my situation and did me a huge favor by doing some background investigation on the companies involved. She found out that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration designated Home Safe as out of service in April. As a company, they are not authorized to operate. Hopefully, with more information at hand, I can try to get back at least some of the money I paid. By filing a police report, I hope I can help catch the criminals who run Map Systems/Green Moving/Home Safe so they can't continue to take advantage of people.

Everything I now own. I'm embracing minimalism.

Everything I now own. I'm embracing minimalism.

I made many mistakes along the way and rushed into hiring movers. Even though I'm a victim of theft and fraud, I'm still mad at myself for what I could have done differently. I could have donated and sold my things, I could have driven it across the country myself, I could have taken the time and paid the extra money to invest in reputable movers. I emptied my savings account to help pay for the movers, and now I own next to nothing.

Imbued with a healthy dose of hippie mysticism from my time in LA, I see there's a sort of cosmic poetry to this hot mess of a situation. It's as if some higher power decided that the price of happiness was almost everything I owned. The life-changing magic of losing all of your belongings. I know that this experience was an important lesson and that, ultimately, I have way more than I lost. I have my health, I'm so much closer to my family and friends, and I have a new career that I'm excited about. I just don't have all of my stuff.