BALTIMORE (WMAR) - The Menge family was preparing to move from Tennessee to Ohio. Janelle Menge entered her information into a free moving quotes website and found a company she felt good about. But before she went through with the move, she was contacted by another company that made her think twice.
"He called me, and I was like 'No, I have another mover booked already' and he's like 'who is it?' and he goes 'they're a broker not an actual mover,'" said Menge.
The senior moving consultant followed up with an email highlighting the company's poor reviews then sent Menge a link to a Better Business Bureau rating. Not the F rating for the moving company he worked for, Unified Van Lines, but a link to Unified Moving Services, another Maryland company with an A+ rating.
Menge didn't realize the two companies were different. She trusted the senior moving consultant and booked with Unified Van Lines.
"After talking to him, I finally paid the deposit. And then I couldn't get ahold of him after paying the deposit and that's when I google searched and your news article came up," said Menge.
WMAR2 News previously reported on Unified Van Lines' tactics and spoke with Marc Zammichieli, the general manager of Unified Moving Services. He told WMAR2 News that the impostor is hurting his business.
"A lot of people calling and complaining thinking we were them. We found out they were giving our information as their company," he said.
Menge called to cancel the move and requested a refund of her nearly $1,000 deposit.
"I'm glad that I found it all out before they had my stuff and I paid them almost $5,000," Menge said.
Others weren't so lucky. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) launched an investigation into Unified Van Lines. The agency suspended their moving authority in March for failing to submit to a safety audit, but business continued.
They then mailed the company a letter demanding to inspect records and said they would be at their Baltimore warehouse in May. WMAR2 News showed up at the warehouse on the set date. FMCSA investigators knocked on the door several times but nobody at the business answered. The inside of the office appeared empty.
Investigators didn't receive any of the requested documents.
The very next day, WMAR2 News was sent video and pictures of operations resuming at the Baltimore warehouse.
On May 25, the FMCSA sent Unified Van Lines a out-of-service order and order to cease all interstate transportation.
There has been some law enforcement activity as well. In May, the Christian County Sheriff's Office along with the FBI raided a Springfield, Missouri warehouse reportedly used by Unified Van Lines. Two people were arrested but no charges have been filed.
The Sheriff's Office is still investigating the matter.
In the meantime, the man connected to Unified Van Lines, Presidential Moving, Public Moving Services, and a dozen other companies is now tied to another - Flagship Van Lines.
The manager of Flagship Van Lines denies any connection to Unified Van Lines or Andrey Shuklin. WMAR2 News obtained a copy of a Flagship Van Lines contract that includes Unified Van Lines' email address in the cancellation clause. WMAR2 News was also sent a copy of Flagship Van Line's web services contract with Relomarket LLC. Business records identify Shuklin as the the title manager of Relomarket LLC.
Flagship Van Lines currently has moving authority. They're also offering lending services through MovingLend.com and request personal information including social security numbers for financing.
The bank listed in their platform agreement, Cross River Bank, denies any connection to Moving Lend. A spokesman representing Cross River said the bank has sent a cease and desist letter to the company telling them to stop alleging a connection to Cross River in any of its marketing, promotional or solicitation materials.
"Since that happened to us, I would not trust anyone else. I don't care if it's United Van Lines, anybody, I don't care. We hired U-Haul and we're just going to do it ourselves," said Menge.
The American Moving and Storage Association (AMSA) says these companies hurt the legitimate professional moving industry and they're urging the FMCSA to do everything they can to help these consumers.
It hurts workers and the local economy when criminals give our industry a bad name, even though these types of situations are rare. For companies with similar names, the victims of these crimes often mistakenly blame them for what happened and sometimes give them bad reviews online, which can hurt their business. I’m glad to hear the FMCSA has gotten more engaged on this issue, and we would encourage them to do everything they can to help these consumers.
- Michael Keaton, spokesperson, The American Moving & Storage Association