In a scathing expose about the aggressive tactics of the debt industry, late night talk show host, John Oliver, from HBO’s This Week Tonight, bought and then forgave $15 million of medical debt during Sunday night’s episode.
As Americans irresponsibly borrow themselves into a black hole of indebtedness, the resultant debt-collecting enterprise in America has become a thriving industry. Due to the ease of entry into the industry, many of these so-called ‘debt collectors’ employ unscrupulous means of collecting owed funds.
To be clear, this is not debt that these companies lent to people and are attempting to recover. Bad debt is bought and sold like shares on the stock market.
Since more than 160 million Americans have credit cards, the average household credit card debt is $15,000. Couple that amount with mortgages, auto loans, medical bills, and student loans, and the total U.S. consumer debt reaches nearly $12 trillion.
To illustrate the ease with which people can obtain your personal and private information to purchase your bad debt, John Oliver started a collection agency in Mississippi.
“Any idiot can get into it, and I can prove that to you, because I’m an idiot and I started a debt buying company and it was disturbingly easy,” Oliver said.
Oliver paid the $50 startup fee and named the company “Central Asset Recovery Professionals,” or CARP, “after a bottom-feeding fish.” He then made himself chairman of the board.
According to Oliver, after he set up a basic website, he was immediately offered a portfolio of medical debt — $15 million worth. He would purchase this entire portfolio for less than half a cent on the dollar for just $60,000.
Along with the purchase of the debt came 9,000 personal addresses and social security numbers. Oliver referred to that fact as “absolutely terrifying, because I could legally have CARP take possession of that debt and have employees start calling people turning their lives upside down over medical debt.”
“There would be absolutely nothing wrong with that except for the fact that absolutely everything is wrong with that,” Oliver continued. “We need much clearer rules and oversight.”
Of course, there is a simple solution to debt — don’t borrow it. All too often we see people unable to pay their power bill because they’ve maxed out their credit cards on a new television. Also, the United States government is a horrible role model for its citizens, as they’ve indebted our great grandchildren’s great grandchildren by amassing the largest debt in history.
Not all people get into debt irresponsibly, however. As families find themselves on hard times in a downtrodden economy, sometimes the only way to put food on the table is with your Mastercard. Aside from credit card debt, many families, even those with health insurance, can find themselves swamped by mounting medical expenses. Oliver’s choosing to forgive medical debt was an admirable move, to say the least.
Toward the end of the show, Oliver said they decided to forgive that debt, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also to dwarf Oprah’s record. In 2004, The Oprah Winfrey Show kicked off the 19th season in dramatic fashion by giving all 276 members of the studio audience a free car.
While Oprah’s move was clearly an advertisement for Pontiac — an unsuccessful one by the way, as the company would close only a few years later — Oliver’s was true charity.
“It seems to me the least we can do for debt I cannot f—ing believe we’re allowed to own is to give it away,” Oliver said to close his show. “F— you, Oprah. I am the new queen of daytime talk!”