Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Story

Get a cup of coffee and visit the rest room, this is a long one:

So, we moved from Texas to South Carolina, right? Actually, I fled Texas three months before the actual move, but since I know the story I'll pass it along here.
We contacted Ultimate Van Lines because we found no negative reviews for them at the first part of the year. Turns out they had changed their name in late December because they had had their license revoked. In the interest of clarity and SEO, the moving company in question is:

Ultimate Van Lines
2929 WHITE CLIFF AVE SUITE # 2122
DALLAS TX 75219
DOT# 1712165 MC#628095
License granted Dec 31, 2007

Formerly:

Quality Moving Systems
1700 COMMERCE ST STE 1120
DALLAS TX 75201-5301
DOT#1387641 MC#528359
Licenses revoked Oct 22, 2007

Okay, so Shana packs and catalogs everything in our house in preparation for the move and she works with the moving consultants at Ultimate Van Lines. After doing the math, they agree that everything in our house in Houston (minus the cats) weighs 11,000 pounds. A bid is delivered to us in the amount of $4407.15 to move 11,176 pounds of stuff from Houston, Texas to Columbia, South Carolina.
This is reasonable and good, and we like it.
The day of the big move arrives . . . And the movers are late. A 9am appointment quickly becomes sometime after lunch and the movers show up in an Enterprise rental van to start loading.
Immediately, the foreman begins to complain about the packing we had done. He says most of our things will not be able to be moved if it isn't re-packed. It just so happens he has $4000 worth of boxes in the truck with him which he begins to use liberally, placing our boxes into his. Four movers run around the house with boxes which they are charging $40 a piece for, dumping things inside, taping them up, and loading them on the truck.
While he had arrived with all these boxes we didn't order, he did not bring a dolly.
Our floor was scratched up with the dragging and one of our ceiling fans was knocked off balance. When Shana pointed it out, the foreman turned off the fan.
Shana called me and told me that in addition to an undisclosed amount of moving supplies we were being charged for, the foreman said our weight calculations were off.
He offered to look the other way on the weight if Shana gave him an $800 cash tip.
She declined, since we were still trying to act like Ultimate Van Lines was some kind of legitimate business.
I asked to speak with him, since I was a time zone to the right of the entire process.
"Yeah, so, you brought $4000 worth of boxes we didn't order and no dolly?" was my initial question.
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"Get our stuff off your truck and go away," I had decided that reason wasn't going to work in this case.
"What? I'm doing you a favor here on the weight!"
"Great. Can you put me in touch with your manager?" I thought at this point I could clear up what was obviously some confusion.
"If you talk to management about this," the foreman warned me,"I won't be able to help you. they will charge you for every pound and I can't stop them."
"Okay."
I waited.
While I waited, so did the movers. They didn't unload the truck, but they didn't put anything else on it.
Finally, I got a call from Matthew Brody (matt@ultimatevanlines.com) who was "concerned" that I was making "a mistake". He said that we would be charged full price for the "packing service" we never ordered and would pay the non-discounted rate for all four mover's time. He also said that contacting another mover would result in a higher transportation cost, since other movers would charge extra since there was no possibility to make anything off packing with our possessions having been so professionally packed already.
In the end, he promised us a discount if I would let the movers finish the job they had started and I (stupidly) agreed.
The job did not complete on the day of the move. Instead, the movers needed to come back on the following day to finish loading. They moved what they had into some storage building and showed up 5 hours late to get the rest of it.
The foreman told Shana that the first truck should have gotten everything if it was indeed 11,000 pounds. Since two trucks were needed, the weight was probably double that. He told Shana we would be charged for every ounce, with "over-weight" penalties, if we didn't come up with some plan.
He said if we couldn't pay for everything to be delivered, Ultimate Van Lines would hold on to our possessions and charge us storage fees, plus added re-delivery costs.
He offered to fix the rate at 16,000 pounds, adding that his signature would lock them into that flat rate instead of going by the actual weight, which was easily double our original 11,000 pound bid.
And so the agreement changed. And our possessions vanished, along with $5400 on a Discover card -- +3% for using a credit card.
I never got an email returned and phone calls were horrible. When I tried to address the issue of a bid which had gone from $4407 to over $11,000, I was told that the agreement was binding and that I had to pay whatever they wanted or our possessions would be kept in storage, eventually sold, and we would be sued for the $11,000, storage fees, interest and re-delivery.
They also claimed no wrong doing and that sometimes "miscalculations happen during the bid process".
On Saturday the 19th, with none of this resolved, we got a call from "the driver". He wanted to deliver on Monday the 21st. I told him there was a pretty serious issue with our bill and that management owed me a phone call.
He called back later that day, trying again to confirm the delivery for Monday morning. I told him Ultimate Van Lines had not called me and he seemed actually surprised. He told me they said they had called me twice. I clarified and asked him to try again.
On Sunday the 22nd I got my call from "Tina", who said she was the General Manager. I informed her that the charges were illegal and obscene. She yelled at me. She threatened me with never seeing my things again. She resorted to name calling.
At this point, my family had been sleeping on the floor for weeks.
I told her I would put it on my Visa and she said I could not. They require seventy-two hours pre-payment on Visa transactions.
I reminded her that if I'd immediately given the number to her driver, I would have not made that deadline. She argued about how many days fit into seventy-two hours, but my case was pretty strong here.
She finally agreed to accept my Visa, plus a 3% processing charge. And she told me she would instruct the driver to give me a $100 discount to offset our unforeseen expenses.
The driver arrived at 9am on Monday. I left work to meet him.
This truck (and the driver) were from White Glove Moving out of New Jersey. Our delivery had been jobbed out.
He asked for the money, telling me he couldn't unlock the truck until I paid.
I understood this, and none of this issue was the fault of White Glove Moving.
"How much does your truck weigh?" I asked.
"I don't know," he answered.
"You will need to find out before I pay you."
"They weighed it when they loaded it. The manifest says 16,000 pounds."
I explained the situation. He shook his head and said he understood and would call it in.
For three hours we waited with the truck parked in front of our house. Ultimate Van Lines resisted our contractual right to have the truck weighed for three hours. Twice the driver approached the house for payment believing Ultimate Van Lines had called me and worked everything out because they had called him and said they had.
Finally, I followed them to a truck stop and watched the truck get weighed.
We went back to the house and he called in my credit card number. I signed the slip "Fraud". I also mentioned again that the 3% Visa add-on would be an issue.
Even though the driver was talking to "Tina", she failed to inform him of the $100 discount (which I no longer really cared about anyway).
This is the sad part of the story:
Our stuff was busted. A lot. Antiques. Electronics. Most of the boxes "professionally packed" in Houston were half empty (or half full, if you swing that way) so the contents had rubbed against each other for three weeks. Also, my surround sound system (Yamaha, 6-channel, piano black) was nowhere to be seen. As was my guitar. How am I supposed to rock without a guitar?
I would take up my air guitar again, but I forget where I left it.
Then, once all of our stuff was off the truck, I followed it back to the truck stop for a re-weigh.
Our total move was 11,020 pounds, including the giant expensive half-empty boxes. Less than the amount on the original $4400 bid.
At least we got our stuff back, right?
Screw that.
I called Visa and reported fraud. I filled out an online disputed charge. I called them yesterday to tell the story. Visa requested documentation, so this morning Shana faxed them 25 pages of it. The especially awesome sheets were one from the DOT reporting that Ultimate Van Lines had been cited eight times this year for holding people's possessions hostage. Also, a sheet showing the math on raising our amount due from the original bid with a check mark in the "over reported weight" box. Also, printouts of emails I sent and posts online from others about the company showing a history of fraud and extortion.
I filed a complaint with the DOT myself, and the BBB, and the Association of Household Goods Carriers.
I unleashed a pretty nasty swarm of hate email by posting the work and home addresses of the employees of Ultimate Van Lines to various places on the internet, which was petty of me. And a lot of fun.
I added to existing posts on MovingScams.org and Consumerist.com. I started my own threads detailing this story.
Visa called me today buried in the paperwork from Shana.
I told the story to them again while they looked at the proof.
The representative told me that it could take up to sixty days for my refund to be processed, but given the amount of documentation the company was unlikely to contest it.
Then she had a better idea.
She said she would try to work the case herself given the complexity, but also said that she would toss it to the "pre-compliance" group because of the irregular 3% Visa fee.
It is extremely likely that Ultimate Van Lines will no longer have the ability to accept credit cards at all in the very near future.
While the final outcome is still being decided, I will try to contain my justice-fueled giggling.
I will not, however, try hard.

2 comments:

Jane said...

Owned!

Heather said...

sorry to hear this happened to you. i did suspect that this company must've been involved in this sort of thing before. we were victimized by UVL in May of this year, and we the people who made the most recent Consumerist posting about them. thankfully, we got most of our stuff back, but i see that this is not always the case. i wonder if the BBB knows they changed their name. interesting.