Relocation firm that cost the Chicago family pretty much everything they owned was charged with federal charges

CHICAGO (CBS) – This is common advice when looking to hire a company: read the reviews. But can you trust them?

One company we have reported on after a step went horribly wrong faces federal allegations of falsifying its brilliant reviews, so we take a closer look at the fight for the truth in a sea of ​​internet reviews.

“It makes me so angry that they kept all our money for a service they ruined,” Brigitte Doherty said.

If Doherty could go back in time, she would not have listened to anything the Safeway Moving System said. You may remember her story of a moving nightmare. Last year, she hired the company to move her parents from Florida to Connecticut. All their belongings were packed in a rented truck that landed upside down in a creek in Maryland.

“They assured me that they would have a lot of confidence in good dealers who were highly regarded,” she said.

Decades of memories and personal heirlooms were destroyed after the truck ended up in the creek, and soon after, it was every belief Doherty had that Safeway would try to do it right.

“Never an offer to repay a penny of a full service fee, which I paid for a service that not only was not completed, but which was a disaster without goals,” Doherty said.

There was no movement for 10 months until CBS 2 rang. In our original story in February, we reported that Safeway was working on a settlement in Doherty’s case. But days later, Safeway would have a far bigger problem.

The Department of Justice prosecuted two Florida residents – Matthew Pardi and Ashley Lynn Hars. The couple has been charged with a $ 12 million move fraud that acts as the Safeway Moving System and at least seven other company names.

Federal prosecutors in Pennsylvania said they would “increase the estimate of their fees” over a three-year period, and if customers did not pay, they would “refuse to supply their household items.” The indictment also says they made “fake 5-star reviews on their own websites and legitimate review sites like the Better Business Bureau and Yelp.”

So we asked BBB about that.

“We have security measures in place, but I have to admit – like any other organization; Amazon and others – that there are fake reviews coming past these safety nets,” said BBB Chicago President and CEO Steve Bernas.

Bernas said the organization is being warned when that kind of accusation comes down, then it is depriving companies of their accreditation. But customer reviews are a different story.

“So we have the protection protection like other organizations on IP addresses, and the boundaries to get from certain computers, but we do not change or modify them and we do not review them like we do complaints,” he said.

But that’s the problem. You can do all the internet research in the world and you will probably find good reviews for these companies. That has been the case with Safeway. We found 5-star reviews for them from clients that were published even after they had been prosecuted.

For example, the website ranked moveBuddha Safeway as the best overall value on its list of the 5 best intergovernmental movers. The website said the list is based on investigations of federal complaints records.

We saw similar reviews on move.org; including glowing anecdotes about star service on long-distance movements and promises to use them again.

On Safeway’s website, we saw the same reviews, but knowing what we know from the indictment, how can we trust something we see?

Neither the staff nor the lawyer for Safeway answered that question for us. It leaves you as a consumer with an even more difficult task. You are asked to do your homework when hiring a business, but it is best to dig more than you think. Do not visit just a few sites. Expand this search and you can avoid the pain and panic of a movement that has gone horribly wrong.

How can you do a better job of applying? If you are looking at the Better Business Bureau, note whether the company is accredited or not. Then, expand your Google search so that you can find news articles, government reports, or anything else related to your business that can help you make the best decision.

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