On the latest episode of Last Week Tonight, host John Oliver explored the debt collection industry in aggravatingly fine detail, but it was what the host did at the end of the segment that is drawing wide praise.
After detailing how the debt collection industry preys on people, often using aggressive tactics to collect money the people may not actually owe, Oliver reveals how little oversight there is within the industry and that, really, pretty much anybody can set up a collection agency – which, of course, Oliver had done.
“As it stands, any idiot can get into [debt buying]. And I can prove that to you because I’m an idiot, and we started a debt buying company,” Oliver told the audience.
The host goes on to explain that a simple online form allowed him and his team to set up a collection agency – Central Asset Recovery Professionals, “or CARP, after the bottom-feeding fish” – and that they were soon offered a portfolio of nearly $15 million in out-of-statute medical debt, which is debt that actually can’t be legally collected, but debt collection agencies still pursue.
“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,” explained Oliver.
“We actually decided to go another way. Because we thought that instead of collecting on the money, why not forgive it?” Oliver mused.
And that’s exactly what happened.
To cheers, Oliver announced that the debt information bought was turned over to a non-profit organization that would wipe away that debt forever. According to the show, they forgave $14,922,261.76 of medical debt for 9,000 people. The show reported it was the largest giveaway in television show history, even surpassing the notable “car giveaway” on Oprah in 2004.
Considering American households owe more than $12 trillion in debt, that $15 million is a tiny drop in the bucket, but when it comes down to it, every drop brings us closer to filling that bucket to the brim.
Watch the entire segment to get the full picture on the shady practices of the debt collecting industry.