Debt collectors make up one of the most reviled industries in America. The Federal Trade Commission says it gets more complaints about them than any other industry. Collectors often go after the debts of dead people or people who are in debt after getting lifesaving medical care. And often collectors use incredibly sleazy, horrifying tactics — like calling people's homes and literally threatening to kill their dogs.
On Last Week Tonight on Sunday, John Oliver demonstrated that anyone can be a debt collector — in a stunt that proved just how easy it is to start a debt collection agency and start harassing people for their money.
"It is pretty clear by now [that] debt buying is a grimy business, and badly needs more oversight, because as it stands any idiot can get into it," Oliver said. "And I can prove that to you, because I'm an idiot, and we started a debt-buying company. And it was disturbingly easy."
Oliver explained that back in April, his show spent $50 to incorporate a debt collection agency online in Mississippi. "We called it Central Asset Recovery Professionals, or CARP, after the bottom-feeding fish," Oliver said.
With a bland website in tow, Oliver said CARP was soon offered nearly $15 million in medical debt from Texas at a cost of less than half a cent on the dollar, or less than $60,000. "For that amount, CARP would be sent the personal information, including names, current addresses, and Social Security numbers of nearly 9,000 people," Oliver said. So CARP bought it.
But here's the twist: Oliver and CARP won't chase down the debts. Instead, he said, "Why not forgive it? Because on one hand, it's obviously the right thing to do. But much more importantly, we'd be staging the largest one-time giveaway in television show history."
So Oliver did just that, essentially giving away $15 million and beating Oprah's giveaway of $8 million in cars on her show in 2004.