October 10, 2015
David Segal
The Haggler

In this episode, Part 2 of our look at the highly elusive and much reviled Classic Moving Services. Last time, the Haggler detailed the trail of lost property and dented furniture in the company’s wake, as well as a slew of complaints about last-minute, day-of-the-move price increases.

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In this episode, Part 2 of our look at the highly elusive and much reviled Classic Moving Services. Last time, the Haggler detailed the trail of lost property and dented furniture in the company’s wake, as well as a slew of complaints about last-minute, day-of-the-move price increases.

The Transportation Department, we noted, revoked the company’s license after it failed to respond to a request for a routine on-site inspection. Classic appears to have gone rogue. It won’t respond to the federal government. Worse, it won’t respond to the Haggler. Calls to the number on its website have yielded nothing but hold music.

The firm is unmoored from the physical world, so it is hard to tell who owns it or where it is. It offers lowball bids and takes payments online, handing the labor and trucking part of jobs to incompetent subcontractors. It seems to exist in the ether.

The Haggler didn’t ask for help in unearthing concrete information about Classic two weeks ago, but one reader took up the challenge — and delivered a clever bit of sleuthing. This person will henceforth be called the Masked Reader because, despite the Haggler’s urgings, he declined to come forward and take a bow by name.

“Do you know why superheroes wear masks?” he deadpanned during a phone call, paraphrasing a line from the television show “Gotham.” “It’s not to protect themselves. It’s to protect their families and friends. They have to choose between truth and happiness. I choose truth.”

Well paraphrased, Masked Reader!

His hunt began with this sentence, found on Classic’s website: “We also feel that consistent communication with our clients is essential to their peace of mind and satisfaction.” The Masked Reader entered those words into a Google search and found them on just one other website, a company called Uber Movers. He then found an incorporation filing for Uber Movers in New Jersey. A man named Yakov Moroz was listed as the company’s president. With that name in hand, the Masked Reader found Yakov Moroz on incorporation papers in Florida — for Classic Moving Services, a company with a principal address that is also in New Jersey.

To be certain that the Masked Reader had the right name, the Haggler checked in with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the part of the Transportation Department that regulates interstate movers. Duane DeBruyne, a department spokesman, had not produced a name for the initial column about Classic, but this time he did.

“Classic’s banking documents show the principal is Yakov Moroz,” Mr. DeBruyne wrote in an email.

It turns out that the Motor Carrier Safety Administration is investigating Mr. Moroz, although no charges have been filed. Using a subpoena, the agency discovered that he, or Classic, was linked to other moving companies, including Plymouth Rock, Blueline Van Lines and Priority 1. The latter has been the focus of lawsuits, including a case filed by a woman in Las Vegas named Lunetta Humphries who said, in 2013, that Priority 1 and another company, Direct Van Lines, had so botched her move that belongings worth more than $13,000 were lost, including a lynx coat, wedding rings and — most devastating — her son’s ashes. Possessions worth an added $6,000 were damaged. The defendants never responded to the lawsuit, and Ms. Humphries was awarded a default judgment of more than $24,000.

Whether she collected a penny is unclear. The Haggler was unable to contact her. A lawyer at the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, which represented her, said that her judgment was sent to a collections firm in New York. A representative for the firm did not return an email.

It so happens there is a mini-industry of so-called chameleon movers, which pop up for a year or two and grossly misbehave, just like Classic. In 2012, the Office of Inspector General at the Transportation Department created a most wanted list  of fugitives who have been charged with “transportation-related crimes.” It features dozens of mug shots, nearly all of them of men wanted for “fraud involving moving company.” (No, Mr. Moroz is not on the list, and the inspector general’s office would not say whether he would be joining it anytime soon.) Three people are marked “Captured.” Several are described as “armed and dangerous.”

Until that moment, the Haggler hadn’t appreciated the scale of the moving-company-fraud issue. In 2012, the Senate Commerce Committee, headed by John D. Rockefeller IV, Democrat of West Virginia, held a hearing on the subject, featuring expostulations from politicians and testimony from witnesses. Senator Rockefeller opened the day on a downbeat note.

“We are talking about crime,” he said, according to a transcript. “And we are talking about scarce resources. We are talking about attorneys general in the states that just do not think that they have the time for this, and you can go down through all kinds of people who might or could be paying attention to this, but for the most part, they do not.”

In other words, this is one of those crimes that don’t quite rip people off enough to warrant a full mobilization of resources. So wouldn’t it be great if there were a low-cost way to shut down a company like Classic, one that didn’t involve the feds or the courts? Ideally, it would take advantage of Classic’s methods of remaining aloof, namely its reliance on technology.

As it happens, such a method exists. The Haggler noticed that Classic collects money from customers just one way: via PayPal, the online payment service. So he contacted PayPal, with an email that included the Transportation Department’s web page stating that Classic had lost its license.

PayPal executives took a look, and two days later, they shut down Classic’s PayPal account. “This recipient is currently unable to receive money,” it now says when you click the “Pay” link on Classic’s site.

Thank you, PayPal executives. You just saved countless people a lot of money and angst. As for those the company has already cheated, that is up to the feds.

Your turn, fellas.