Nineteen unlicensed moving companies were found to be in violation of state law following an undercover sting operation in Wycoff by the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs and the ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations.

(LuckyBusiness, ThinkStock)

The companies face penalties up to $2,500 each for soliciting without a New Jersey license for interstate movers,according to a press release issued by the New Jersey DCA. These licenses help to ensure that consumers’ goods are protected by cargo liability insurance and that vehicles meet state regulations. Most of these companies advertised online through professional-looking websites such as Craigslist and Angie’s List.

However, several employees were also allegedly in the United States in violation of other laws. One employee had previous convictions for sexual abuse of a minor, one had two driving while intoxicated convictions and one was found to be an MS-13 gang member, the DCA press release states. Others were arrested for issues such as unpaid child support and lack of a driver’s license.

The operation, which took place in November 2014, began as Consumer Affairs investigators posed as customers hiring the companies for a common household move. After arriving, the movers were inspected by authorities for violations.

“Too many consumers have been ripped off by movers who held their furniture and other goods hostage while demanding outrageously inflated prices," Steve Lee, acting director of the Division of Consumer Affairs said in a press release. “Protecting consumers begins with our enforcement of New Jersey’s licensing laws.”

The division advised customers to be cautious when hiring moving companies. Some practices they recommended include obtaining written estimates from companies, avoiding packing valuables with goods to be moved, and checking goods as they are being delivered.