CHICAGO (CBS) — It’s common advice when you’re looking to hire any company: read the reviews. But can you trust them?

A company we’ve reported on after a move gone horribly wrong is facing federal charges for faking its glowing reviews, so we’re taking a closer look at the struggle for truth in a sea of internet reviews.

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

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

“They assured me that they would have very trusted good vendors that were highly vetted,” she said.

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

“Never an offer of reimbursement of a penny of a full service charge that I paid for a service that wasn’t only not completed, but was a catastrophe 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 days later, Safeway would have a far bigger problem on its hands.

The Department of Justice indicted two Floridians – Matthew Pardi and Ashley Lynn Hars. The pair has been accused of a moving fraud scheme worth over $12 million, operating as Safeway Moving System and at least seven other company names.

Federal prosecutors in Pennsylvania said, over a span of three years, they’d “increase the estimate of their fees,” and if customers didn’t pay, they’d “refuse to deliver their household goods.” The indictment also states they created “false 5-star reviews on their own websites and legitimate review websites like the Better Business Bureau and Yelp.”

So we asked the BBB about that.

“We do have safeguards in place, but I have to admit – like every other organization; Amazon and others – that there are fake reviews that get past those safety nets,” said BBB Chicago president and CEO Steve Bernas.

Bernas said the organization is alerted when these kind of indictments come down, then it strips companies of their accreditation. But customer reviews are a different story.

“So we do have the safeguard protections like other organizations on IP addresses, and the limits from coming from certain computers, but we don’t change or modify those, and we don’t review them like we do complaints,” he said.

But that’s the trouble. You can do all the internet research in the world, and you’ll likely find great reviews for these companies. That’s been the case with Safeway. We found 5-star reviews for them from customers posted even after they were indicted.

For example, the website moveBuddha ranked Safeway as the best overall value on its list of the 5 best interstate movers. The website said that list is based on research of federal complaint records.

We saw similar reviews on move.org; including glowing anecdotes about stellar service on long-distance moves, and pledges to use them again.

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

Neither the staff nor the attorney for Safeway answered that question for us. That leaves you, the consumer, with an even more difficult task. You’re told to do your homework when hiring a company, but it’s best to do more digging than you think. Don’t visit just a few websites. Widen that search, and you may avoid the pain and panic of a move gone horribly wrong.

How can you do a better job at searching? If you’re looking on the Better Business Bureau, note if the company’s accredited or not. Then widen your Google search, so you can find news articles, government reports, or anything else tied to the business that may help you make the best decision.

Quoted from Various Sources

Published for: Mr Blow Up