I guess this article can be considered a Public Service Announcement. Last Wednesday, I was scheduled to move from my house in Kew Gardens Hills to Baltimore. A few weeks before, I was gathering information on potential movers.
I received several quotes from recommended movers. My daughter in Chicago told me that she when she moved from Lakewood, New Jersey, to Chicago, she used a frum-owned mover called Schulgasser Bros., based in Passaic. She was extremely satisfied with their service and professionalism. So, naturally, I tried contacting them.
The first thing I did was Google their name to get the contact information. I entered the name Schulgasser, but up came a different name. I figured that this may be a different name under which Schulgasser operates. (It turns out that it was an ad inserted by Google.) When Mike on the other side answered the phone, I thought I was talking to a frum person, so I began to use colloquial Hebrew expressions. Mike, however, did not know what I was talking about. I then asked him whether he was Jewish, and he said he was not and operates out of Minneapolis. When I expressed surprise, since Schulgasser is a Jewish-owned company based in New Jersey, he told me that his company bought out Schulgasser. I figured if Schulgasser sold to these people, which will apparently carry their name, they must be reputable.
The quote given by Mike over the phone was $8,000, substantially lower than other quotes. A few weeks later, Mike called to say that based on a new analysis, the price would be $12,000, which was still lower than other bids, so we stayed with them. At that point, he asked for a Zelle deposit of $6,500, which we sent him.
On moving day, a Budget truck showed up with three workers and a foreman. There was no trace of any moving company name on the truck. I asked the foreman why he was using a rented truck, and he explained because they are so busy at this time of year, they need to rent trucks wherever they can get them. Sounded plausible enough. The foreman walked into the house and said, based on the volume he saw in the house, the price will actually be $27,000. Of course, we were horrified at that price, which was more than triple the original estimate.
The foremen told us that this has nothing to do with him, but rather the “broker,” Mike, whom he does not really know other than the fact that he arranged for his company to do the job. I said I had no idea that I was going through a broker, and he showed me the emailed contract to me from Mike, which in small letters mentioned that they are brokers.
The foreman, who claimed to be Lebanese, came across as the nicest, sweetest guy who was only trying to help us. He offered to do it for $16,000 if we would not move our big items like hi-risers and breakfronts. He regaled us with stories about Jewish people that he knew. At that point, we had no choice but to comply, and even arranged to give away the hi-risers and junk the other furniture. And they proceeded to load the truck.
About four hours into the job, my daughter-in-law, who knows the Schulgassers from Passaic, called Mrs. Schulgasser to ask her if it’s true that they sold out to another company. “Of course not!” she exclaimed. At that time, her husband, Baruch Schulgasser, the owner, took the phone and said, “Tell your father-in-law to block the moving truck and make them put it all back!” These people will either not deliver your goods, put it in storage, or hold you up for another $10,000 at delivery. Baruch told us he would come with his brother the next day and do the job for a fraction of the cost.
Our mover was shocked when I told him to put everything back – and of course took a good few thousand in cash to do so. I told him a story that my Baltimore move fell through, and I could not move. I did not want him to know that I was on to him.
He kept on insisting that I store my goods with him, and he would not charge me for up to 30 days. Of course, I refused to allow him to further keep any of my stuff. We later found out that the Budget truck was leased to a private individual, which would be untraceable to any mover.
I did call the police to assist me, but they said this was a civil matter, not something they could be involved with at that point. I must commend Queens Shmira, who did come over immediately and was a great source of support, as was a cousin/friend who joined, as well. I believe when the movers saw they were dealing with a person who has support in the community, they were more willing to deal with me.
Schulgasser Bros. showed up on time the next day and efficiently and professionally moved us and all our goods to Baltimore. The final charge was under budget! One of the things Baruch Schulgasser showed me is how the fraudulent movers placed white stickers on every box. This is for them to keep track of all the items when they send it out to storage facilities in place of delivering it. How scary is that!
If the mover had started the job on time, I likely would have lost all my possessions. It was maybe 20 minutes left to completely load the truck and get ready to pull out that I received the call to stop the job. The thought is absolutely traumatizing. I just thank Hashem for watching over me and my family.
How come we did not see all the signs that these guys were part of a scam? In retrospect, all the red flags were there. But who thinks that he is getting scammed by a mover at the time? I later did a Google search on the broker and the mover and there were countless complaints from people who experienced exactly what I went through, except they were too late and suffered huge losses.
Yes, I did report my experience to the appropriate authorities. The Schulgassers are doing their own investigation, and we will see what this leads to.
I am not disclosing the names here of the broker and the mover, but if anyone needs that information, please email me c/o the Queens Jewish Link and I will respond. I did receive permission from the Schulgassers to use their name. I felt the need to share this experience publicly in order to make sure that no one else considering moving falls into this horrible trap.
I wish everyone a happy, healthy, and stress-free shanah tovah.
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.