On the latest episode of HBO’s Last Week Tonight, host John Oliver has made television history by staging the largest single monetary giveaway – a ‘prize’ totalling $US15 million, or roughly $AU23 million.
This giveaway however, brought to light a much more shocking reality, one that many citizens are unaware of – the industry of Debt Buyers.
As the host explained, Americans collectively owe upwards of $US12 trillion in debt, with over $US436 billion of that being labelled delinquent – three months or more past its due date.
This huge number has lead to the influx of exploitative companies who deal in debt. Their business model works on purchasing debt, for a fraction of the cost of the actual debt. As soon as the ownership is passed on, the debt can legally be claimed in-full by the new controlling company. These companies often use illegal, predatory and underhand tactics for recovering their dues.
“Most of the big banks do it, and not just banks but payday loans, book clubs, gyms, auto loans… Every year, billions of dollars of this debt is sold off cheap.”
“It’s true, debt buying companies… that you’ve probably never heard of, have amassed a huge amount of America’s debt. In fact the largest, the Encore Group, tell investors that one in five consumers either owes them money now, or has owed them money in the past,” says Oliver in the segment.
“Almost every part of how this industry is allowed to operate is problematic.”
To bring to light just how “disturbingly easy” it is to enter this industry, Oliver and his team decided to start their own debt-buying company.
“We spent $US50 to incorporate a debt-acquisition company in Mississippi… We named it Central Asset Recovery Professionals, or CARP, after the bottom-feeding fish.”
“We were soon offered a portfolio of nearly $US15 million of out-of-statute medical debt from Texas at a cost of nearly half a cent on the dollar, which is less than $US60,000.”
After stating that this debt-ownership was procured along with the social security numbers of over 9000 people, CARP then accepted the offer.
But, instead of collecting on the money, CARP decided to forgive it.
Here’s our piece on the Debt Buying industry from last night. Your move, Oprah… https://t.co/yhZfbCuY5f
— John Oliver (@iamjohnoliver) June 6, 2016
“Because, on the one hand, it’s obviously the right thing to do,” he said. “But much more importantly, we’d be staging the largest one-time giveaway in television show history.”
Instead of taking on the debt themselves, Oliver had the document sent to RIPMedicalDebt, a nonprofit organisation which specialises in forgiving medical debt with no tax consequences for the debtor.
“Clearly this is only going to help the 9000 people whose medical debt we bought. The larger issue is we need much clearly rules and tougher oversight to protect consumers from potentially predatory companies like the one we set up.
“In the mean time it seems the least we can do with this debt I cannot f—ing believe we are allowed to own, is to give it away.”
CEO of RIPMedicaldebt.org, Craig Antico, spoke to ABC about the segment, expressing his gratitude to Oliver for shedding light on a problem “that few people know exists.”
He went on to say that his organisation had seen a boost in donations since the show aired.
Whilst careful to state that people who owe money should pay their debts, he explained the difference between those who are simply avoiding debt and those who have to choose between paying medical debt and paying for food or shelter.
“If people paid attention to (Oliver’s show) and it got them upset, they should realise that we can eradicate much of this debt if we all banded together to help each other,” Antico said. “People can make a donation of $50 and wipe out a $10,000 debt.”
Watch the full segment below.