Newark - Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman and the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs today announced the filing of a complaint against Moving Max, Inc., a Bergen County moving company based in Fair Lawn, and its owners, Adam Eliad, 32, and Oziel Eliad, 60, both of Paramus, for repeatedly offering artificially low estimates to consumers, and then once in possession of their goods, threatening to hold those goods hostage unless a higher payment -- at times double the estimates offered -- was paid immediately and in cash or money order.
The State's 10-count complaint, filed in Superior Court in Hackensack, alleges that Moving Max, Inc., Adam Eliad, and Oziel Eliad (collectively, the "defendants") committed multiple violations of the Public Movers and Warehousemen Licensing Act and its related regulations, and the Consumer Fraud Act. The State is seeking enhanced penalties because Adam Eliad and Oziel Eliad allegedly violated terms of a February 2007 Final Consent Judgment related to a former moving company they owned.
"Moving Max and its owners, Adam and Oziel Eliad, held consumers' possessions hostage, threatening to drive away with furniture and other personal items, unless they were immediately paid outrageously high and sometimes bogus fees," Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman said. "We allege that the defendants are repeat violators of our consumer protection laws and regulations. We are asking the court to permanently bar them from the moving industry and impose enhanced civil penalties for their egregious actions."
The complaint alleges that the defendants provided consumers with artificially low quotes via the Internet. These quotes ranged from approximately $225 to $921. But after loading consumers' property onto a moving truck, they demanded payment grossly in excess of the quoted prices, ranging from approximately $500 to $1,665. The defendants attempted to justify these amounts with exorbitant and bogus charges which had not been disclosed or discussed beforehand. These included charges for items and services such as unnecessary packing, use of tape and blankets that were not actually necessary or used, carrying furniture on stairs, travel time, and even an "EPA" fee when no such fee was included in company's tariff (the "Moving Max tariff") -- a formal schedule of rates and charges filed with the Division of Consumer Affairs. When shocked customers protested these amounts, the defendants allegedly threatened to drive off and retain the consumers' personal belongings until payment was made by cash or money order.
The complaint also alleges, among other things, that the defendants failed to conduct physical pre-move inspections of the consumers' belongings; failed to provide consumers with a copy of the State-mandated brochure, "Important Notice to Consumers Using Public Movers"; intentionally concealed contractual forms so they could not be read by consumers who were pressured to sign the forms without being able to read them adequately; and failed to provide a written estimate or a formal contract to the consumers.
"Moving Max allegedly used bait-and-switch tactics to victimize consumers," said Acting Consumer Affairs Director Steve Lee. "These consumers were vulnerable, as their possessions had already been loaded onto a Moving Max truck, and many felt they had no choice but to pay these excessive and predatory fees. We intend to get the money used to pay for these illegal fees back to consumers and to hold the defendants accountable for their actions."
On February 8, 2007, the Eliads had entered into a consent judgment with the Attorney General and the Division of Consumer Affairs which resolved a civil enforcement action brought by the Division of Consumer Affairs against the Eliads and a former moving company, A Professional Movers, Inc. That consent judgment included the provision that any future violations of the Public Movers Licensing Act and Regulations or the Consumer Fraud Act would be subject to enhanced penalties. The State's new complaint alleges that the Eliads have violated multiple injunctive relief and business practices provisions of this consent judgment by, among other things, charging and receiving compensation at rates significantly higher than the rates in the Moving Max tariff, charging for items not found in the Moving Max tariff, and other alleged violations.
To date, the Division of Consumer Affairs has received 15 consumer complaints against Moving Max. Collective consumer restitution is estimated at $12,772, resulting from the overcharges that the consumers claim to have paid. The Division is seeking enhanced civil penalties of up to $20,000 for each violation of the Consumer Fraud Act and up to $5,000 for each violation of the Public Movers and Warehousemen Licensing Act.
Deputy Attorney General Patricia Schiripo, Assistant Chief of the Consumer Fraud Prosecution Section in the Division of Law, is representing the State.
Investigator Vincent Buonanno of the Division of Consumer Affairs conducted the investigation.
Consumers who believe they may have been victimized by Moving Max or other moving companies can file a complaint online with the State Division of Consumer Affairs or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.