Published: Jul 19, 2012 4:00 PM EDT
Updated: Jul 19, 2012 7:00 PM EDT

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. - Trouble with a moving company forced a local family to pick up the phone and make a Call for Action. When their cross-country move was going to cost them nearly double what they were prepared to pay, the moving van drove away with their stuff still inside.

"I was mortified. I mean everything that we need not only for us, but for that baby is on that truck," explained grandmother Melanie Gano.

Melanie, who has legal custody of her 3-year-old granddaughter Lacie, got a little emotional when talking about the toddler.

"Lacie has a permanent brain injury," she said. "She was born at 26 weeks. She was two pounds at birth. The fact that she is even upright and vertical and talking and walking is even a miracle."

The Gano's decided to pick up and move 3,300 miles from Washington state to Port Charlotte to be closer to family friends. But when the Gano's movers showed up to their new Florida home, Melanie said she was shocked by her bill.

"Told me we owed them $4,500, which was like double what it would have cost us," she explained.

The Gano's didn't have that amount. Without enough cash, the moving truck took off with all of their stuff.

"I contacted you because I don't have my furniture," said Melanie.

And more importantly, she didn't have Lacie's items.

"All of her medical records are on that truck...I need her stuff. I've got to get her set up with doctors and I can't do it," she said.

That's when Call for Action went digging for answers.

Melanie sent us her original "binding estimate" from the moving broker she hired, "Nationwide Relocation Services."

This Nationwide is not connected with Nationwide Van Lines, the big national moving company you're probably familiar with. This company is a broker. They hire a third-party mover to do the job.

It's when that third-party mover showed up to pick the Gano's belongings up, the binding estimate was out the window. The movers wrote down a new list of items they were moving and all of a sudden the cost of the move skyrocketed and so did the pressure to sign.

"He goes, I just need you to sign it," said Melanie.

So what happened to cause the jump in price? The Gano's got their estimate over the phone, not in person. So when the movers showed up on moving day and actually saw the Gano's items for the first time, they said there was a lot more than what was on the estimate, so they wanted a lot more money.

"He said, 'but I need you to sign this or we can't leave here.' Well, we needed to get out stuff to Florida. They had me over a barrel and I signed it," recalled Melanie.

By signing the new document, she legally agreed to the new "pay by the pound" moving terms.

"From the day they showed up at our house in Port Angeles, Washington, I started asking for weight slips," said Melanie.

But instead of getting proof of what her stuff weighed, Melanie says she got an ultimatum.

"I was on the phone with them for two-and-a-half hours. It's all or nothing," she said.

In other words, she was told to pay $4,500 in cash, or her stuff would go into storage. So her house stayed empty.

Moving costs that suddenly increase and companies that hold your belongings hostage for more money on delivery are so prevalent, a U.S. Senate committee is investigating.

The committee even sent out letters to four moving companies, including Nationwide Relocation Services, asking about this practice.

We started putting in calls to Nationwide to find out what happened to the Gano's. No one called us back, but someone did finally reach out to the Gano's while we were there.

And finally, Melanie was able to tell someone what she was going through.

"My granddaughter, that we adopted and who is now my daughter, who has a permanent brain injury. All of her stuff is on that truck that she needs. Along with all of her medical records," she explained to the Nationwide employee on the phone.

And we were finally able to ask our questions. Like, why weren't the Gano's ever given a weight ticket? By the end of the conversation, we learned that no matter what, the Gano's were going to get their items back immediately.

The next day the Gano's were able to meet the moving truck at a weigh station to get proof of their furniture's weight and it turned out, after all that, the higher weight estimate was accurate. The Gano's will have to pay the higher price.

Here's how to avoid a similar fate:

Get your estimates done by the moving company at your house. If it's accurate and you got a binding estimate, you won't get stuck with a higher bill.

Click on this link for more moving tips.

Click on this link to check out the records of moving companies.

Nationwide Relocation Services tells us, in the Gano's case, a re-weigh should have been done to begin with and the Gano's items should never have gone into storage without consulting Nationwide first.

The full statement given to us by Nationwide Relocation Services is below:

In regard to the Gano family move, Nationwide has been aware of this matter and has worked diligently to resolve the issue. In particular, this matter demonstrates how a Moving Broker, such as Nationwide, steps in as an advocate for consumers to help resolve disputes between moving companies and consumers. Nationwide is happy it was able to step in and help mediate the dispute between Ms. Gano and the moving company she contracted with - Relo Van

In this matter, Ms. Gano received a "Binding" estimate from Nationwide on 3-21-12 to transport a specific list of 55 items from Port Angeles, WA to Port Charlotte, FL. The "Binding" estimate in the amount of $4,009.71, was a guaranteed not to exceed price to transport the 55 items Ms. Gano specified she would be moving. The estimate on its face reads:

The total cost will not exceed the estimated amount, provided in the furniture list (55 items for an estimated weight of 3,097 lbs.)… If any additional pieces, packing services, weight, or labor services are added at the origin or destination to those quoted, the Customer may be charged for these services at full tariff rates…."

The written estimate further described in detail the role of Nationwide as a properly licensed Moving Broker. The estimate reads as:

Customer has hired Nationwide as a Moving Coordinator/Shipper Agent/Broker and not to handle or otherwise participate in a move
as a carrier. In acting as a Shipper Agent only, Nationwide is not responsible for any acts or omissions of the Carrier or its employees or agents.

On the day of the pick-up in Washington the customer decided to move many more items than the specific 55 items she had disclosed to the estimator. Based upon the additional items to be moved the moving company, Relo Van Lines, gave the customer a "Revised Written Estimate" listing the new items to be moved and a new estimated price to include the additional services. Ms. Gano approved the new $5,846.67 estimated price and confirmed her agreement by signing and twice initialing the mover's revised estimate.

When the moving company arrived to the customer's house in order to deliver, the customer did not have the funds available to pay the estimated amount she agreed to pay. According the statements made by Ms. Gano in recorded conversations, she did not have the funds to pay either the original estimate or the revised estimate. Without payment of even the original estimate the moving company decided on their own, without consulting Nationwide, to exercise their carrier's lien on the property and place the goods in storage.

(***The Gano's tell WINK that they had $2,000 in cash on hand at the time of the delivery and the rest of the original amount they would have owed, at the bank, which they were ready to withdrawal at time of delivery***)

The decision by the moving company to not deliver when a customer does not have the funds to pay even the original estimate is well within the bounds of the law. However, according to consumer protection safeguard and policies put into place by Nationwide, the moving company was required to inform and consult with Nationwide prior to taking unilateral action. As such, their actions although legal, violated Nationwide's consumer protection policies which go beyond the legal regulations to help protect consumers.

Ms. Gano reached out to Nationwide for help resolving her dispute with the moving company. Nationwide was happy to step in and help. Ms. Gano requested a re-weigh of her property. Nationwide, as the consumer's advocate, was pleased to use their influence to require the mover to accommodate the consumer's request.

Ms. Gano explained her financial hardship and special medical condition of her adopted daughter. Ms. Gano offered to make payments to pay the full balance due, as verified by the weight tickets, after receiving her property. Taking Ms. Gano at her word, Nationwide once again stepped in and paid the moving company Ms. Gano's balance due and will allow Ms. Gano to make payments to reimburse them.

In regard to the Gano move, Nationwide was pleased that it was able to step in and help resolve the dispute between the moving company and the consumer. Of the approximately 30,000 plus moves booked by Nationwide, and their family of companies, each year - consumer complaints such as this account for less than 1% of the overall moves booked. As a broker, Nationwide, advocates for their consumers and steps in to help resolves disputes between consumers and the moving companies. Nationwide, requires all moving companies servicing their customers to follow all federal regulations and adhere to consumer safeguard policies which  exceed the legal regulations. This move matter was an example of the consumer protection safeguards taking effect to help the Gano family and resolve their dispute with the moving

In regard to the United States Senate investigation into the entire moving industry -Nationwide, as the largest interstate broker in the country, is pleased to be voluntarily assisting the United States Senate in their research and investigation. As early as 2007, Nationwide has lobbied for additional consumer protection regulations - this investigation is an extension of Nationwide's efforts over the years to help protect consumers.

In fact, the federal highway spending plan approved by the House and Senate on Friday, 6-29-12 contained several provisions Nationwide has been advocating for since 2007, such as strengthening entry requirements for household goods carriers, as well as requiring moving companies to pass a licensing exam before being issued their authority to operate.

"The highway bill contains very important new protections for consumers and their property during an interstate move" said Aldo DiSorbo, Nationwide's president and CEO. "In 2007, I was the first to propose the government require all moving companies undergo training and pass a licensing exam. Congress has embraced my ideas which will help protect consumers."

DiSorbo added "More needs to be done to protect consumers from unlicensed scam movers and unfair business practices. I am going to Washington soon to propose additional legislation to educate and protect consumers."

The legislation specifically tightens licensing requirements for new interstate household goods movers, requires licensing exams, and ensures only professional and qualified brokers with a commitment to serving and protecting consumers, such as Nationwide, be permitted to operate.

As it turns out this situation was a misunderstanding between the consumer and the moving company. Nationwide, and its over 300 employees are pleased that their consumer protection policies worked to assist families such as the Ganos.