John Oliver last night tackled this country’s epidemic of personal debt, which he explained as “the reason Nicolas Cage has made so many great choices over the years” in his movie roles. American households collectively owe more than $12 trillion, about $440 billion of which is at least 90 days past overdue. That has given birth to a billion-dollar debt buying industry. Debt buyers acquire the right to collect debts from the original creditors. Some of these outfits are pretty skeevy, as Oliver illustrated using hidden camera coverage of one of their confabs in Vegas.
There’s also something called “zombie debt.” That’s debt you believe to be settled, but which debt buyers make come back to life. Like the characters on The Walking Dead, “Zombie debt comes back from the grave, is incredibly hard to deal with, and seems to disproportionately effect minorities,” Oliver said.
It’s a “grimy business” and “any idiot can get into it. I’m an idiot,” he said, by way of explaining why his show spent $50 to acquire a debt buying business online in Mississippi. They named their new operation Central Asset Recovery Professionals – CARP, after the bottom-feeding fish. CARP quickly was offered a portfolio of nearly $15M in out-of statute medical debt from Texas, at a rate of half a cent on the dollar. For less than $60K, CARP was given the personal information of nearly 9K people attached to this out of statute debt. “It was terrifying,” Oliver said.
Instead of making those people’s lives a living hell about debt they no longer had to pay on these medical bills, CARP decided to forgive all the debt. Because it would become the largest one-time give away in TV show history, besting Oprah’s famous You Get A Car, You Get A Car, Everybody Gets A Car giveaway to nearly 300 people in her studio audience to kick off the 2004-05 season of her syndicated daytime talk show.
“That giveaway was worth nearly $8M” Oliver said, gleefully noting he was about to give away nearly twice that.
“We need much clearer laws but, in the meantime, it seems the least we can do with the debt I cannot fucking believe we own, is to give it away. You’re about to watch me give away $15M. Fuck You, Oprah!”
Hitting a large red button on a podium, he roared. “It is done! I am the new Queen of Daytime Talk.”