By MARIE SAAVEDRA
Chicago, Ill. (WBBM) – This is common advice when looking to hire a company: read the reviews. But can we trust them?
A company we reported on after a decision gone horribly wrong is facing federal charges for tampering with its rave reviews, so we’re taking a closer look at the fight for truth in a sea of internet reviews.
“It drives me so crazy that they kept all our money for a service that they destroyed,” Brigitte Doherty said.
If Doherty could go back in time, she wouldn’t have listened to anything from Safeway Moving System. You may remember his moving nightmare story. Last year, she hired the company to move her parents from Florida to Connecticut. All of their belongings were packed into a rental truck that landed upside down in a creek in Maryland.
“They assured me that they would have trusted good, highly vetted suppliers,” she said.
Decades of memories and personal heirlooms were destroyed after the truck ended up in the creek, and soon after Doherty believed Safeway would try to fix things.
“Never an offer to refund a penny of full service fees I paid for a service that not only wasn’t completed, but was a disaster beyond measure,” Doherty said.
There was no movement for 10 months, until CBS 2 called. In our original story in February, we reported that Safeway was working on a settlement in Doherty’s case. But a few days later, Safeway would have a much bigger problem on its hands.
The Justice Department has charged two Floridians – Matthew Pardi and Ashley Lynn Hars. The couple have been charged with a moving fraud scheme worth more than $12 million, operating under the name Safeway Moving System and at least seven other company names.
Federal prosecutors in Pennsylvania said that over a three-year period, they would “increase the estimate of their charges” and that if customers did not pay, they would “refuse to deliver their household goods.” The indictment also says they created “fake 5-star reviews on their own websites and legitimate review websites like the Better Business Bureau and Yelp.”
So we asked the BBB about it.
“We have safeguards in place, but I have to admit – like every other organization; Amazon and others – that there are fake reviews that bypass those safety nets,” said BBB Chicago President and CEO Steve Bernas.
Bernas said the organization is alerted when these types of indictments come out and then strips companies of their accreditation. But customer reviews are another story.
“So we have the safeguard protections like other organizations on IP addresses, and limits coming from certain computers, but we don’t change or modify them, and we don’t review them like we do with complaints” , did he declare.
But that’s the problem. You can do all the internet searches in the world and you will likely find great reviews for these companies. This is the case of Safeway. We found 5 star reviews for them from customers posted even after they were charged.
For example, the moveBuddha website ranked Safeway as the best overall value on its list of the top 5 interstate movers. The website says this list is based on research of federal complaint records.
We have seen similar reviews on move.org; including rave anecdotes of stellar service on long distance moves, and is committed to using them again.
On the Safeway website, we saw these same reviews, but knowing what we know about the indictment, how can we trust everything we see?
Neither Safeway staff nor counsel answered this question for us. This leaves you, the consumer, with an even more difficult task. You’re told to do your homework when hiring a company, but it’s better to dig deeper than you think. Don’t just visit a few websites. Broaden that search and you may avoid the pain and panic of a move gone horribly wrong.
How can you do a better research job? If you are looking on the Better Business Bureau, note whether the company is accredited or not. Then broaden your Google search to find news articles, government reports, or anything else company-related that might help you make the best decision.
Note: This content is subject to a strict local market embargo. If you share the same market as the contributor of this article, you cannot use it on any platform.