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She paid movers over $1,000 to relocate to Lincoln. They never showed up.

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Lauren Vlach, 7.27

Lauren Vlach fell victim to a moving scam as she prepared to move from Nashville, Tennessee, to Lincoln. She tried to cancel the service within 72 hours, but she was unable to get in touch with the moving company after sending it a deposit.

When 24-year-old Lauren Vlach traded the country music, barbecue and cowboy boots of Tennessee for the rolling Great Plains, she was nervous.

Nashville is nearly 750 miles from Lincoln. The distance posed a challenge in getting her personal belongings moved safely and affordably.

As a first-time mover, she wanted to hire help, but with medical bills and student loans to pay off, she had to stay within a tight budget.

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Vlach found a website that would give her quotes for a number of moving companies. All that was required to get an estimate was her phone number.

“It was a very mindless, quick thing when I entered the information,” she said. “I was just curious to see how much it cost.”

What Vlach didn’t know was that one of the companies she’d contacted — the one she ultimately chose — had been given an "F" rating from the Better Business Bureau and had a history of scamming its clientele.

Vlach would become its latest victim.

She's not alone. In 2021, Lincoln-area customers filed 1,100 complaints with the Better Business Bureau against moving companies. 

“It's a very personal and tragic situation for any scam victim for any amount of money,” said Josh Planos, vice president of communications with the Better Business Bureau.

Lauren Vlach, 7.27

Lauren Vlach fell victim to a moving scam as she prepared to move from Nashville, Tennessee, to Lincoln. She tried to cancel the service within 72 hours, but was unable to get in touch with the moving company after sending it a deposit.

After paying a $1,050 deposit, Vlach stopped hearing from the company. On moving day, the trucks never arrived.

Vlach rented a U-Haul and did it herself, adding expense to an already pricey endeavor.

“I've just been hit this last month, financially, from every direction,” she said. “At the moment, I'm about to be in, like, true credit card debt, and that's really upsetting.”

She tried to cancel the moving service — she even contacted her credit card company — but the money was lost. 

Planos, who said 40% of moves come between May and August, warned that moving scams are becoming more common.

Consumers should protect themselves from potential fraud by doing research before hiring a moving company, he said.

He said customers should make sure a moving company has an actual address and a brick-and-mortar facility. In addition, he warned to avoid movers who arrive on moving day in unmarked trucks. They have been known to load the moving trucks and never be seen again. 

There's a preconceived notion that elderly Americans are uniquely susceptible to robocall scams, but younger Americans are more likely to be tricked out of their money through their phones. Nearly half of American 20-somethings reported losing money to fraud in 2020, compared to only 20 percent of those 70 to 79, according to Federal Trade Commission data. "The barrier to entry to pushing robocalls out and scams out is almost zero, and you can absolutely cast a wide net across the country from that perspective," Kush Parikh, president at Hiya, a company that sells caller profile information to identify incoming calls and block suggested unwanted ones said. "I don't think there's a bias or a specific target related to who's on the other side of the phone. It's really, 'Hey, where am I being successful?'"While younger Americans are more susceptible to this fraud, they are giving up less money. On average, 20-year-olds lost about $300 on these scams, compared to $650 for people in their 70s. Scams targeting younger generations are engineered differently than those for older Americans. For the younger targets, the fraud may be designed to trick individuals around possible purchases they've made or services they've received, based on personal information that scammers have on their targets. "We're seeing that many of the fraudulent robocalls and smishing messages are around health care, so we know that they're going after older people who are less aware of it," Jacinta Tobin, vice president of Global Cloudmark Operations, Proofpoint, said."The biggest scam call out there now that seems to be catching fire, and a lot of different folks are using it, is one where they call you pretend to be a major brand or a major company and say there's a charge on your account," Alex Quillici, CEO at robocall-blocking software company, Youmail, said. "...'No, I don't have that. That must be fraud,' and you call, and you're going to talk to somebody who then gets your credit card sales from you."The FCC is pushing telecom companies to block these calls through a new directive called STIR/SHAKEN."All voice providers nationwide whether it's a home phone or a cell phone or VoIP line they had to tell the FCC what they were doing to make robocalls go away," Teresa Murray, with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, said. "It's pretty much that simple. They didn't necessarily all have to have implemented the new technology, but they at least had to report to the FCC what they were doing to mitigate robocalls."Since the FTC enacted its plan in June, robocalls have fallen, but they're still largely present. In October, robocalls targeting Americans hit their lowest point of the year albeit at 4 billion, according to Youmail. "The problem is when you take four billion a month times 12, you're at 48 almost 50 billion calls, which is the level we were at three years ago," Quillici said. "It's just kind of a round trip to a too-high level."Experts told Newsy the next step is to make sure these telecom companies are actually applying STIR/SHAKEN to their products. As of November 15, only 31 percent of roughly 6,000 telecom companies reported to the FCC that they were STIR/SHAKEN compliant.

Planos recommends Googling the company’s name followed by the keyword “scam” to see if other customers have flagged the business as fraudulent. Googling a company can produce fake reviews, something Vlach learned when she tried to research her scammer.

Vlach is just one in a long line of people who have been taken in by moving scams.

Last April, Emily Engelbert and her family moved to Lincoln from Edmond, Oklahoma, but, like Vlach, were forced to move themselves after being scammed.

Engelbert became suspicious their moving company was illegitimate when it couldn't remember the day of the move. Then the price of the move doubled to $4,400 without warning.

After receiving payment, the movers quit responding to her phone calls — until moving day, when they said they were on their way just as Engelbert and her family had finished packing up their U-Haul and were on the road to Lincoln.

She told them, "turn around, we’ve already left."

She lost the money, but the movers weren't given the chance to steal her stuff, she said. After looking deeper into the company, she found customers alleging they never received their belongings.

Englebert said she wouldn't use movers again unless a recommendation came from a reliable source or they were a local company.

“I would do a lot more research than what we did with this place,” she said.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7241 or jthompson@journalstar.com

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News intern

Jenna Thompson is a news intern who has previous writing and editing experience with her college paper and several literary journals. She is a senior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln pursuing degrees in English and journalism.

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