Thursday, May 4, 2017

That One Time a Moving Company Tried to Screw the Military


Spouses deploy. The world keeps spinning. We are asked to move twice in 6 months. We barely skip a beat. But if you want to rankle a military spouse, mess with their child(ren) or their household goods. And that brings us to the storage crate auction by Bay Area Movers and their partners in crime, Gene Daniels Auctions.  The story broke yesterday on Facebook because someone spotted the advertisement for the auction on a website and shared it. It clearly states the over 71,000 pounds of goods are from military moves: "Unclaimed Shipments from Overseas…These Shipments are unclaimed household goods / personal property of military members who were stationed in locations such as Italy, Germany, Spain and Bahrain.  Many Military members take advantage of their time stationed in these faraway places and purchase unique furniture pieces and decorative items handcrafted in these countries.  HIDDEN TREASURES…The contents of the shipments have not been seen and containers have been sealed since originally packed overseas.  The shipment(s) you bid on may contain such items as antique furniture, china, crystal, artwork, TV’s and other electronics or possibly collectors’ items."

There is so much absurdity in this that if it wasn't so disturbing, it would almost be funny. Their claim that these crates have been abandoned (even though they contain HIDDEN TREASURES, handcrafted and unique decorative items and electronics) is shady, at best. When the names on the crates were leaked, TWO people stepped forward immediately to claim their crates. Yet, the moving company had been trying to get in contact with them for years? And yes, let's remember that when we spend all this time and money collecting hidden treasures from faraway lands, the first thing we want to do is abandon it in some moving storage facility. No, more likely the moving company has already paid the claim on the "lost goods" and now they are selling it all for profit.

Let me back up. I think a little basic understanding of how a military move works is in order. When a servicemember gets orders for a new duty station, it begins a PCS (Permanent Change of Station - I love the word "permanent" here because there is nothing permanent about the military but you have to call it something, I guess). PCS moves usually happen in the summer because school is out and that's when it is the least disruptive to the rest of the family. I'm not sure what the exact number is for the total number of military families moving every summer, but Neal and I both think it's safe to put it in the tens of thousands. Every family gets an allotted weight that is based on rank. I think we are allotted something like 18,000 pounds, give or take. I know that the total weight of our household goods is about 17,500. If we buy an exceptionally heavy piece of furniture between moves, I try to offset that by getting rid of an equal amount of weight somewhere else. I also don't buy heavy furniture anymore. You know who IKEA is perfect for? College students and military families. (Although Blue's IKEA bunk bed is quite possibly the heaviest thing I've ever owned. Ever.)

If your PCS move is stateside, you have 2 options:
1. Do a door-to-door move, meaning that you watch everything get loaded on the truck and then you play Smoky and the Bandit as you race to your next destination, hoping you arrive at least 5 minutes before the truck does.
2. Do a storage move, meaning that everything goes into enormous wooden crates that get loaded on a truck, then offloaded at the moving company's storage unit, then reloaded on the truck at a later date, and then offloaded at your house. This would be your game plan if you were, for example, going to spend about 8 weeks living in your RV while you dragged your family and the cat to every National Park within the Great Plains and southwest United States area. The moving company would store your stuff, for free, for up to 90 days after they pick it up. They make no guarantees about the shape it will arrive in, or even if it will all arrive. Ever. But there is a promise that they will pick it up and then deliver some assortment of your stuff (and perhaps someone else's) at some later agreed upon date.

Okay, there is a third option. Move your crap yourself. I have several energetic and determined friends who do this. They pack and load and transport everything themselves and in return, the US government writes them a check for a percentage of what a professional move would cost. They all swear this is the way to survive a PCS. I used to scoff and mock. I'm coming around. The POD is your friend.

If your PCS move is out of the country, you have 1 option:
1. Watch your stuff get loaded into enormous crates that get loaded on a truck and then spend the next 8-12 weeks wondering if any of it will make it. It all gets loaded on a boat and sent across the ocean, whether you are going to Hawaii, South Korea, Germany, Italy or Iceland. Just kidding. We don't go to Iceland. But I hear it's beautiful and a couple of years hanging out at the Blue Lagoon would be worth some lost candlesticks. Anyway, this is where things get sticky. All of that movement of crates across oceans pretty much always results in things getting broken or just completely lost. And then, of course, it has to come back to the United States at some point. Another opportunity for everything you own to fall into the sea, or into the hands of a greedy moving company.

I hear there's a second option of moving your own stuff out of country. I can neither confirm nor deny this but it definitely calls for more research.

Until now, most military families have simply had to accept that entire crates of household goods have gone missing during out-of-country (or even stateside) moves. We moved from Kansas to Pennsylvania and 3 of our crates showed up 4 days after the first 2. Also, somewhere along the way,  they lost half of my grandmother's china, the very integral corner of Neal's desk, our furniture dolly, and an entire box of Blue's Legos. And that's just the stuff we know about. Because we don't keep a full inventory of our household goods, we only know what's missing when it never comes off the truck. Every item has a sticker with a number. Either Neal or I check off the numbers as items roll off the truck. And whatever is left unchecked is considered lost. We make a claim for those items (after we have tracked down receipts showing what we paid - which is the best reason to buy everything from Etsy or Amazon), and the moving company sends a check months later for pennies on the dollar. How do I put a price on the china my grandmother bought me? I pick an arbitrary number that sounds right while I flip the bird at the computer screen as I fill out the form. And then I post it on a very helpful Facebook page where military families post pictures of items they've lost during a move with the hopes that someone else has found it in their delivery. It almost never works out that someone who has lost something connects with someone who has found their something. But we try. And a tiny little piece of us dies inside. Because things are things but some things are, literally, irreplaceable. I hand-carry as much as I can but it's getting to the point that, between the priceless Christmas ornaments and the shadow box of Shepherd's angel gown and Blue's birth items and letters from war and the box of baby teeth that are sure to come, it's almost too much. At some point, you have to let the movers put it in a box, which goes into a crate, which goes onto a truck, which you may or may not ever see again. It's all a gamble. And sometimes you roll the dice twice in the same year.

The Bay Area Moving Company is auctioning off crates that have been "left in their storage facility for 5+ years after every attempt to contact the owner has been made" and now they "need the space for the upcoming summer PCS moves." And I think this would be a legitimate argument except that a picture of the crates got leaked and one of the crates to be auctioned was from an April 2017 move and was supposed to be shipped overseas, not auctioned off in Portsmouth, VA. According to some Facebook pages I'm on, it all got straightened out and it's now on its merry way to the rightful owner, but I can't help but wonder how many more "accidents" will be auctioned off in the coming days. Many of these "low tier" moving companies (read: low rated by families they have moved) don't get paid as much as the higher tier companies so they look to make money elsewhere. This is just one of those ways. Sometimes they just outright steal your stuff. I no longer put anything in the original, easily identifiable box. And sometimes when they break something, they deny your claim with a BS response like "You didn't prove it was in working order when it was moved." Well, it's only my Keurig coffeemaker, which is basically the 5th member of our family. It was working fabulously right up until I unplugged it from the wall and put it in a box, about 10 minutes before you pulled out of our driveway.

It is my sincere hope that Bay Area Moving has truly used every means available to contact the owners of these containers. I hope they have not sent certified letters to the address where the family moved from. I hope they have opened the containers and looked inside for names and phone numbers of the owners. I hope the owners have truly abandoned their crates. But if that is not the case, I hope those boxes are full of flea infested couches and Bon Jovi posters. May they be overflowing with knock-off Gucci purses and framed pictures of someone's cats and IKEA dishes and at least one flammable Himalayan salt lamp. I hope at least one is filled with nothing but purchases from The Dollar Tree and another from that time when the movers packed all the trash and Goodwill bags. I hope none of them contain my friend's entire collection of Polish pottery or another friend's wedding scrapbooks or my grandmother's china. I hope no one is making money off the personal affects of a military family.

Moving the military around every 12-24 months is Big Business. The moving companies who contract with the government are making serious money all year around, but especially in the summer. And then some companies take it upon themselves to increase their profit margins by whatever means necessary. While we do not get to choose our moving companies, you can help us by checking any crates that you buy at auctions to make sure they are legitimately abandoned. And you can spread this story so this never happens again. There are abandoned crates in moving company storage units to be sure, but I have a hard time imagining any of them belong to military families. What if the owner of that crate never came home from war? Someone wants that stuff. And the government knows exactly where to find the next of kin. All the moving company has to do is ask. The entire story stinks of greed and rotting morals.

32 comments:

  1. Well said. Hope someone who can do something reads this. Some day I hope to introduce you to our friend Megan who - before she became an Air Force spouse - wa a DOD teacher in - wait for it - Iceland!

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    1. Funny! I am an army spouse who was a teacher in Iceland.

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    2. My husband was a teacher in Iceland as well. Good article.

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  2. I hope some of those are the filled diaper pail boxes... OH yeah. or the trash can that was labeled DO NOT PACK.

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  3. Very well-said.
    (Btw...we were lucky enough to get 2 years stationed in Iceland. We were there when NAS Keflavik was shut down in 2006.)

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  4. Only correction I'd make--if you are CONUS, you don't get crates. Your HHG is loaded on a truck, often with another family, and often horrifically split between 2 trucks because they guessed wrong on the space you need. Then it almost ALWAYS goes to storage where your stuff is moved again. Then when in storage it's possible to be moved yet again. The average time your HHG is touched is 4 times. EVERY time your stuff is touched there's an opportunity for loss...theft/breakage/misplacement or separation from the rest of the load.

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    1. You actually can have crates when its CONUS. When I retired from California back to Florida in 2013 they loaded my stuff in crates and delived them in the same ones.

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    2. We got crates from Louisiana to California. Except our furniture, bikes, that kind of thing. And that was in 2015.

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  5. I remember when we moved back from Italy years ago, they packed and shipped the coffee maker, still full of wet coffee grounds from that morning, while I went to work. The wife with our newborn, so didn't notice. Imagine the lovely sight and smell of it when we unpacked a month or so, later in VA.

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    1. You were aware of the date you were being packed. It is up to you to have your appliances ready to ship. What do you think they gonna come in and wash your dirty dishes too before they get packed??? Not their job to check your coffeemaker.

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    2. Get off your high horse. Have you ever done a solo move with small children and a deployed spouse? Coffee is VITAL and sometimes things get overlooked in the rush of the morning - such as the moving truck trying to back into your cul-de-sac and instead getting stuck in the mud and tearing up the neighbor's yard down the street, then arriving with a lock that they ask you for tools to break off because they forgot the key and can't unlock the truck, and you are keeping track of 3 small kids and a dog and hoping they don't run out the yard with the gate open, and hoping the baby doesn't fall down the stairs because the movers left the baby gate open, and so maybe you might forget to clean up the coffee pot because you were overcome by a lot of events, while getting 16,000 lbs of things into crates to go into HHG and storage, plus of course hold baggage, while military spouse is in Baghdad and you are selling the house and managing an OCONUS move from a civilian location and won't see him until you reach the OCONUS location.

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    3. eric mende may, that is an incredibly ignorant and unsympathetic statement. Of course its our responsibility to have everything "ready." You cannot even fathom the amount of stress that an overseas move entails. Robert wasn't posting that it was their fault either. Just simply that he and his wife missed it. it got packed. EW! It happens. Anyone who has PCS'd overseas knows the struggle. You are just bound to miss something or the movers are bound to miss something or take something that shouldn't be taken. Our first PCS move from Hawaii back to the mainland was insane. I was so stressed out. My husband was gone and had been for months because he was TDY enroute and I had two small children. I was terrfied of all the drama I had heard about and all the crazy things the movers had done to other families. I was a frantic mess! Stuff happens. Rather than being judgmental, anyone who has actually experienced the nonsense that happens during a PCS should be empathetic as we all just struggle to survive this life together, crying a little here and laughing a little there hoping the quad venti xanax, vodka mocha we are sipping keeps us from the loony bin.

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  6. My mom used to start several months in advance in packing boxes of our household goods. She would write an inventory of EVERYTHING in the box. She numbered each of them with our last name and consecutive numbers. She left them unsealed (per moving standard) and made a copy of the inventory list. When the movers showed up, she sharef with them that there was an inventory list in each box and ahe had the duplicate list. The movers then taped up the boxes and onto the trucks they'd go. When we got to our next duty station (we almost always did door-to-door), she was waiting with the list and directed them on which room each item belonged in. Suffice to say, nothing ever got lost and the only damage we had was a broken nightlight and a cracked Tupperware lid. She was tenacious and brilliant!

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  7. The auction company is now insinuating that the military community is uneducated for investigating their shady behavior...this should go over well for them...

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  8. EVERY SINGLE MOVE we have had stuff stolen..... Oh yeah, broken-dented-ripped-wet-mold- & the list goes on...

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  9. And you are doing the same thing showing a companys and an agent's truck in your story that was not in any way associated with the story. Yet someone will fly off the handle about them too now........real smart.

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    1. She is a blogger and this looks like her own personal photograph of a moving company packing her HHG. She is free to use her personal photos on her personal blog, I knew right away the picture was a personal snapshot.

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  10. And you are doing the same thing by having a picture of a moving truck from UNITED VAN LINED,(the company) and their agent ARMSTRONG and misrepresenting them by using this picture. thereby associating them to this incident, which was perfectly legal. Even agencies on base have not voiced one bit of concern that there was something wrong here.

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    1. Eric, Are you a rep for the moving industry? Even trolls aren't this relentless and nit-picky. But if you are just a Troll, then you seriously need a better hobby.

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  11. The news report I watched showed huge warehouses with household goods. Some has been sitting for 9 years and no response from the owner of record. When new went out about the auction, 1 person came forward who's stuff was stored for only 1 year. 9 years is an incredible length of time for the govt to pay for storage.

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  12. I wonder if one person in particular who has commented here is in the military and has experienced these moves. This was a well written article on what it is like and what is involved when one moves with the military whether it is CONUS or overseas. I have a feeling that those who have filed claims of lost items (even crates full of their HHG) have gotten the runaround from TMO and finally gave up and received much $$ which was much less than whatever they lost. Our stuff is our stuff and should be handled with respect and care. I appreciate your taking the time to share your viewpoint of the scheduled auction of "abandoned" goods by the moving company/auction house. For those who want to criticize your use of whatever pictures or criticize comments made to your post, they need to find a hobby which isn't sniping on people's blogs and posts!

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  13. My husband and I did a partial DItY move, once. The government did pay us for what we moved, then taxed it. And we had to claim it as income on our taxes. If the man is a soldier 24/7/365, when did he have time to become a moving professional? I just sucked my teeth really hard, rolled my eyes way to the back of my head, and let it go. But! Thank you for making more of us aware about the auctions that go on. I had no idea. I also thought I was the only one who carried their kids baby teeth around!!! Good to know that if I AM crazy, I'm in awesome company. <3

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  14. You're a car salesman. Why are you defending these transportation and auction people? You don't even live in the same state. Sadly, while you are defending these people you are selling cars to people in a military community, possibly military themselves. Did your school of hard knocks include time in the service? If not, then you have nothing to say here. You would have no idea what we go through. Stick to your used cars.

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  15. You are a used car salesman. What does any of this have to do with you? You don't even live in the same state. Sadly, you live in a military community possibly selling cars to military personnel, all the while defending companies that that care more about money than the customers. Did your school of hard knocks include time in the service? If not, then you have nothing to say here. If you had then would feel a little more compassion for what we go through and the people who take advantage of us.

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  16. Please see www.Move.mil for info on how to do a successful PCS move and what to do if things go south. Work with your base/post/camp/station transportation/personal property office until you are satisfied. Don't accept anything less than first-class exceptional service, If things start to head south, get your base transportation reps involve immediately.

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  17. You hit the nail on the head with this post! I worked for a TSP for one summer coordinating military moves and was seriously in shock at the whole process. It is a MESS and no provider is ever doing what is best for the service member, they are only trying to make the most money off the move that they can. Crating shipments unnecessarily has gotten very popular with the TSPs because the profit margin is often much higher than a door to door move, yet crating a shipment results in a much higher occurrence of damaged, lost or stolen items. No one cares that they are dealing with people's belongings, they care about profiting off of the military. Luckily, the TSP I worked for would not even use Bay Area Movers because of their terrible reputation, so I guess you could say SOME of the TSPs are looking out for the service members.

    Most likely, these crates that were supposedly "abandoned" were actually reported as lost to the military and to the owner's of the household goods for various reasons, disorganization of the mover's warehouse being my top choice. The service members were then paid a small amount of money compared to what their lost goods were actually worth by the TSP, and Bay Area Movers will now profit off of the distress of others. I guarantee you that much of the property being auctioned off belongs to people who want it back.

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  18. I just want to clear the air because I myself am an owner of a moving company that works with the Department of Defense and moves military members, let me start out by saying that yes these military members do abandon their stuff, no they're not Hidden Treasures in these items they are trash which is why these people didn't claim them in the first place also know that anything that is lost the moving company has to pay a hundred percent of value so there's no way to make a profit on it please do your research the next time you choose to write an article completely unfounded in fact

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  19. Well written, thanks! Although, the moving companies usually DO guarantee that your stuff will arrive safely. In fact, if it doesn't, you can file a claim and collect the cost of repair or replacement. I will say that you have to be fairly diligent about filing and stick to your guns on the value of your stuff, but ultimately, they will pay up.

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  21. This type of situation can happen to any one so always trust Office Movers Toronto

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That's it, let it all out....