3 arrested in alleged moving scam

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EAGLE MOUNTAIN -- Three men were arrested Monday for posing as movers in order to get money from a woman who was preparing to move across the country.

Julie McNair needed her furniture moved from Eagle Mountain to South Carolina. She used a moving broker website to get bids from five companies. The cheapest came back from what she thought was the national moving company Atlas Moving Lines for around $1,800.

On Monday the movers started loading her belongings into the van. But Julie said she had a funny feeling -- which was confirmed when the movers said her things weighed more than they'd originally thought so they were raising the price to $5,100.

In addition, their truck appeared to have an Atlas Van Lines decal recently placed on it, though the men were wearing shirts with the Atlas Van Lines logo and website on them.

Here are the "red flags" to look out for:
• The mover doesn't offer or agree to an onsite inspection of your household goods and gives an estimate over the telephone or Internet — sight unseen. These estimates often sound too-good-to-be-true. They usually are.
• The moving company demands cash or a large deposit before the move.
• The mover doesn't provide you with a copy of "Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move," a booklet movers are required by Federal regulations to supply to their customers in the planning stages of interstate moves.
• The company's website has no local address and no information about their registration or insurance.
• The mover claims all goods are covered by their insurance.
• When you call the mover, the telephone is answered with a generic "Movers" or "Moving company," rather than the company's name.
• Offices and warehouse are in poor condition or nonexistent.
• On moving day, a rental truck arrives rather than a company-owned or marked fleet truck.

Julie's mother called Atlas -- the real Atlas. The company said the movers were not associated with them, and it has been trying to stop this scam for months. Atlas's attorney Todd Suter says the scam has been going on all over the country, especially in the west, for as long as six months.

"I'm sure it's connected to a larger organized crime connection," said Lt. Darren Gilbert of the Utah County Sheriff's Office.

Julie confronted the fake movers.

Julie said, "When I sat him down I just said, 'You know and I know you're a liar and this is not the actual Atlas Van Lines and I'm not signing anything.'"

Julie went outside to get a license plate number off the truck, only to discover it didn't have plates. So she stood in front of the truck.

"He said, ‘OK, fine, we don't have time for this today so I'll unload it and I'll only charge you $400 for the packing material in cash and you don't call the police,'" Julie said.

But she already had called them. When officers arrived they arrested the men -- after they unloaded her belongings.

Court records show the three men told police they worked for a man named George. When investigators contacted him, he said his company is called Atlas Van Lines but is separate from the nationally-known moving company.

"The website matched up, all their names and all the invoices they were sending and the quotes they were sending had 'Atlas Moving Company' and the exact logo of Atlas," Gilbert said.

Suter told the Deseret News people seeking a moving company sometimes enter their information on a website that generates leads for scam artists. He called the Internet "a cesspool of trademark infringement."

The suspects are identified as:

  • Zoher Awad, 26
  • Itzhak Taizi, 29
  • Juventino Ruiz-Vazquez, 27

They are all from San Jose, Calif., and were booked into the Utah County Jail for communications fraud. Their bail is set at $2,500.

The real Atlas hopes this latest case gets the word out to both law enforcement and families preparing to move.

E-mail: sdallof@ksl.com

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