HOUSTON—Moving crooks: look out. The cops are onto the scam.
For months, consumer watchdogs have been warning people about crooked moving companies. Now, the Houston Police Department has a warning for the movers. For the first time in Harris County, investigators are planning on pressing criminal charges.
According to police, the shady movers get their customer to sign a contract with a lot of small print, then the customer calls the cops after being charged thousands of dollars. In the past, police have seen the contracts and determined the incidents are civil issues.
However, many of these scammers are not licensed, which means the contract is illegal.
Moving is stressful, but getting scammed in the process is infuriating.
"I'm upset that they can rob us - legally, in the daylight, witnessed by the cops," Van Tran said after being scammed by movers in July.
Police told Tran there was nothing they could do.
"It is shady business," said Scott Williams, an investigator with the HPD Major Offenders Unit.
Williams wants to start going after the moving scammers.
"Cease and desist, because we're no longer going to be handcuffed by misunderstandings on what's supposed to be going on," Williams warned.
Most scammers post ads on Craigslist. They promise a cheap move, but then use the small print in contracts to justify charging thousands of dollars. Then, the company switches its name and continues scamming people.
Williams said the scammers are not licensed in the State of Texas, meaning the contracts are not legal, the business is not legitimate and the move is theft.
"There's nothing that shows me these people are licensed to operate as movers If they are licensed, they're doing it in violation of every rule and regulation for operating that type of business in the State of Texas," Williams said.
Williams is now trying to find as many scam victims as possible he he can really stick it to the bad guys. He said if enough victims come forward, he could even try to get the district attorney to file charges for organized crime.
"I'm going to go ahead and jump up and down and scream and beg and plead and hopefully somebody over there will say, 'Hey, ok. We're going to go ahead and pursue this,'" Williams said.
Williams believes there are only a handful of scammers in the Houston area. He also said the ringleaders are probably with the crews who come to do the move. The crime he wants to pin on them is theft by deception - a felony in Texas if the value on the theft is more than $1,500.