MORRISVILLE, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Complaints about movers holding items hostage have doubled during the pandemic, according to federal authorities.
"We're moving to Florida because my husband wants to be closer to his parents," said Nancy Romano of Morrisville, Bucks County.
The Romano family found Gold Standard Moving and Storage online and paid $1,626 upfront. Their agreement shows the total moving estimate priced at $3,592
But then there were surprises.
"It makes you feel enraged that they would do this and try to take advantage of someone," said Tom Romano.
Gold Standard Moving and Storage is a broker and it assigned the Romano's job to a moving company with an "F" rating by the Better Business Bureau.
After loading their items, the Romanos said the movers demanded thousands of more dollars.
And if they failed to pay?
"She told me my stuff would be overboard in Alabama and that I will never see my stuff again," explained Nancy Romano.
Gold Standard said its estimate was based on 82 pieces the Romanos told them they needed to move.
They said the movers they assigned claimed the Romanos actually had 161 pieces. Gold Standard also claimed the Romanos signed the contract acknowledging the increased price. But that's something the Romanos dispute.
"Some of the stuff is my father's, some of it my mother's, my sister's ashes. It's just heartbreaking," she said.
Months later, the Romanos still don't have their belongings including the ashes belonging to Nancy Romano's sister who died this year.
"I didn't realize they were just a broker," said Jane Kemp of Apache Junction, Arizona.
Kemp told the ABC station in Arizona she also had trouble with a moving company Gold Standard. She says the broker wouldn't help her either.
"My whole life was upside down. All I have is what I had in a suitcase," said Kemp, who did eventually get her belongings.
"About 5 million people every year do an interstate move across the nation, and it is one of the most traumatic events that anyone can go through," said Meera Joshi, the Deputy Administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Movers and brokers are regulated by the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration, which has a website protectyourmove.gov.
"So if you're doing an interstate move, and your mover is not registered with us, you know that's a red flag that something's wrong," said Joshi.
Joshi says the website will also tell you whether you're dealing with a broker or whether you're dealing with a mover.
"And the broker facilitates the move and the mover does the actual move," Joshi explained.
It will also tell you how many complaints a broker or a mover has.
When the Troubleshooters checked Florida-based Gold Standard online, the federal website showed it had 294 complaints and its authorization as an interstate broker had been revoked.
The Troubleshooters also confirmed the Florida Attorney General is investigating the company.
It's all things the Romanos wish they had known before they gave the broker their money.
"I feel terrible because a lot of things in there, I can't even express if I lose them," Nancy Romano said.
The owner of Gold Standard, Charles Abrams, told the Troubleshooters, "Gold Standard brokered the successful move of over 13,000 customers so far this calendar year. Compared to other brokers, the number of complaints we have is proportional to the size of the company..."
There is a federal consumer hotline for complaints and questions about both movers and brokers. That number is 1-888-DOT-SAFT (1-888-368-7238). You can also file a complaint online.