If you missed HBO’s Last Week Tonight on Sunday, always-intelligent, albeit somewhat goofy British host John Oliver took an investigative look at the shady world of debt collection and debt buying.
Proving how simple it is to stop debt collection agencies from harassing disadvantaged people who just don’t have the money to pay their bills, Oliver staged the biggest giveaway in TV history: Paying off $15 million in debt for 9,000 disadvantaged people.
As the Consumerist reports:
Debt buyers purchase debt from creditors and other debt buyers. Sometimes that debt isn’t even owed, as the relevant statute of limitations has expired. If the alleged debtor begins making payments on those bills, it may resurrect the debt as so-called “zombie debt.”
Oliver said the zombie metaphor is “quite apt, because just like on The Walking Dead, zombie debt comes back from the grave, is incredibly hard to deal with, and seems to disproportionately impact minorities.”
In more than half the states, you can legally buy debt without a license. In 17 states, you don’t even need a license to collect debts.
“There are places in this country where you need to fill out less paperwork to start collecting money from peoples’ pockets than you do to collect fish from a f*cking lake,” Oliver explained.
He continued: “It is pretty clear by now that debt-buying is a grimy business and badly needs more oversight. As it stands, any idiot can get into it, and I can prove that to you, because I’m an idiot and we started a debt-buying company…
For a $50 fee, Oliver and his team registered their new debt-acquisition firm, Central Asset Recovery Professionals — CARP, named after the bottom-feeding fish — in Mississippi, complete with a website that was nothing more than a logo.
“With little more to go on than that website,” he said, “we were soon offered a portfolio of nearly $15 million of out-of-statute medical debt from Texas.
The asking price was less than $60,000 for $14,922,261.76 in this zombie debt — or around $.004 for every dollar of debt owed. Purchasing the debt would give CARP the names, current addresses, Social Security numbers, and amount owed (or previously owed, as the statute of limitations had expired) for nearly 9,000 individuals.as.”
As quick as a heart attack, CARP took the deal.
“So, we bought it, which is absolutely terrifying,” Oliver admitted. “Because it means if I wanted to, I could legally have CARP take possession of that list and have employees start calling people, turning their lives upside down over medical debt they no longer had to pay. There would be absolutely nothing wrong with that, except for the fact that absolutely everything is wrong with that.”
Here’s where our hearts healed: Instead of going after those debt-ridden people, CARP forgave their debts and made $15 million the biggest TV show giveaway in history (adding a “BLEEP you, Oprah!” after beating her TV giveaway record).
They say money can’t buy you happiness. Oliver proved that wrong, too. Nine-thousand people are a lot happier now.
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