Most businesses would prefer their phones constantly ring, but for Marc Zammichieli, it’s become a burden.
He’s not fielding inquiries about his moving company, instead he's spending precious time setting the record straight.
The callers are typically angry consumers wondering where their belongings are, why their estimate has skyrocketed, and why no one is responding to their calls and emails.
That’s when Zammichieli breaks the news.
“And this is the difficult part, walking it through that they've been ripped off, taken advantage of,” said Zammichieli.
He tells the caller that they’ve reached the wrong company. He is the general manager of sales for Unified Moving Services, LLC; a company with a well-established reputation in Hyattsville, Maryland. The aggrieved customers are actually looking for Unified Van Lines, LLC; a moving company that WMAR-2 News has linked to more than a dozen rogue operators. These companies have also been tied to several individuals, Andrey Shuklin and Serghei Verlan.
Shuklin's other companies, Texas-based Presidential Moving LLC and North Carolina-based Public Moving Services, were also recently shut down by the FMCSA. The two companies have more than 265 customer complaints. When those companies ceased and slowed down operations, Shuklin continued his business through Unified Van Lines.
The company, registered in Baltimore with the FMCSA and state business filings, also lists a California address on their website.
Zammichieli thinks the decision to name the company Unified Van Lines, LLC was not by chance but rather a strategic move to mimic Unified Moving Services and their good reputation.
And despite Unified Van Lines losing their moving operating authority in March, the company continues to operate.
WMAR-2 has heard from customers who had their items moved in April. And we've obtained emails Unified Van Lines sent potential customers that include links to Unified Moving Services’ Better Business Bureau rating.
“We found out they were giving our information as their company. We have an A+ rating and constant complaints from customers calling me day and night that they weren't getting their items, yelling at me and screaming until I calmed them down and made them realize that this company was just another one of these rip-off moving companies,” Zammichieli said.
Those customers have also posted negative reviews on Zammichieli’s BBB site and Yelp profiles. Instead of building his business, he’s focused on damage control.
“I have to work twice as hard to maintain our reputation. I mean it's hard enough to maintain a B rating, but an A+ rating in this industry? It's almost possible. We have great people, they work hard. And now, I've got to maintain that with false accusations from people we've never even met or moved, or received a dime from,” said Zammichieli.
While their website boasts that they have 20+ years in the moving industry, Unified Van Lines, LLC first applied for operating authority on December 23, 2016.
On March 20, 2018, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration placed the carrier out-of-service because they failed to agree to a safety audit.
So far this year, more than 40 complaints have been filed against the company through the FMCSA National Consumer Complaint Database.
The company also recently registered under four other Department of Transportation license numbers.
“Just $300, pay someone you know, a friend, put it under their name and now they're open up again under Unified Van Lines,” Zammichieli said.
The FMCSA has launched awareness campaigns to educate consumers to search for DOT numbers and research companies online, but the average consumer doesn't know you also need a valid MC number and most don't know that companies also post fake reviews detailing positive experiences.
Several moving review sites have suspended any additional comments on Unified Van Lines because they claim the company has been posting fake reviews.
Once again, the FMCSA declined an in-person interview, and even after we told them what we found, spokeswoman Sharon Worthy said they cannot comment on an on-going investigation.
“I really pray that someone could get involved in this whether this be the FBI or someone and just shut these companies down because this is fraud, you're taking money under false pretenses,” said Zammichieli.
But he's not confident that he'll see the penalties he believes the company deserves.
“When they were shutdown we celebrated for one week and they're open up again. I'm still getting calls from individuals and again, I feel sorry for them, the tears, it's incredible what you have to listen to,” he said.
Zammichieli just hopes that if and when they're caught, a clear message is sent.
“This is what they do and it's very hard to nail them down and catch them. But when they catch them, something severe needs to be done because maybe it'll keep some of those bad companies out of there, but they're always going to be with us, I'm afraid. I hate to say that,” said Zammichieli.
A Troubled Industry: AMSA calls on officials to take action
To better police the industry, the American Moving and Storage Association vets professional moving companies and lists reputable ones on their website. Unified Moving Services is an AMSA-approved ProMover.
The association’s president is calling on elected officials to do something about Unified Van Lines and rogue operators.
“Scam artists like this one have no place in the professional moving industry. They can give legitimate businesses a bad name, hurting not just their customers but honest businesspeople and workers. To confirm if a moving company is legitimate, find a list of certified ProMovers at Moving.org. We call on federal and state officials to take swift action in this case to protect innocent consumers.”
- Scott Michael, president and CEO of the American Moving & Storage Association
Zammichieli sends every person who contacts his office an email with tips on relocating. Here are the red flags he tells consumers to watch out for.
- Check out all companies with the BBB & DOT. If a company is not registered with BBB and there is no fixed address or work history that is a bad sign.
- Expect a confirmation letter with a correct fixed address, the company's location, and guaranteed flat rate or qualified hourly quote (prior to booking the service).
- Don't place more than a $50.00 deposit to book any local or long distance relocation service.
- Look for highly-rated BBB companies and AMSA ProMover certification.
- If the prices seems too good to be true, it probably is. You get what you pay for. There are companies that have very low prices but you will end up paying twice what you would have paid with a reputable company. There will be a ton of add-ons with materials, etc.
- Get a guaranteed 'do not exceed' figure, or you will pay the price.