John Oliver made TV history on Sunday night by making the largest TV-giveaway to date.
Oliver gave away $15 million with the push of a button on his HBO show “Last Week Tonight.” The previous TV giveaway record was just under $8 million when Oprah Winfrey famously gave 276 audience members a new car.
Oliver’s giveaway wasn’t just a fun record-breaking stunt. It made a serious point about the state of debt regulation in America, which is very poor.
As he explained in a 20-minute segment, there is very little government oversight of debt collectors, making debt information easily available to just about anyone including people who could use that information to target and abuse desperate people.
To prove just how little oversight there is in the industry, Oliver set up a debt collection agency called “Central Asset Recovery Professionals,” or CARP, in Mississippi. All it took was $50. He said:
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.
After setting up the agency, CARP purchased $15 million in medical debt for $60,000owed by 9,000 people.
With that purchase, Oliver had access to thenames, personal addresses and Social Security numbers of those 9,000 people.
Rather than use that information in harmful ways, as some debt collectors do, Oliver decided to forgive it all in one magnificent move.
The $15 million in medical debt was transferred toRIP Medical Debt, a nonprofit that forgives medical debt with no tax consequences. So now those 9,000 people have Oliver to thank for forgiving their debt.
Although this was a fun segment and cool thing to do, it says a lot about how easy it is for nefarious people to get access topeople who are already very vulnerable with debt.
Now, clearly, this is only going to help the 9,000 people whose medical debt we bought. The larger issue is we need much clearer rules and proper oversight to protect consumers from potentially predatory companies, like the one we set up.
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