Remember that time Oprah gave away $8 million worth of cars to her studio audience? Last Week Tonight host John Oliver just outdid the talk show queen by giving away $15 million — in debt.
It was all part of the show’s report into the shady debt-buying industry.
A debt buyer purchases delinquent or charged-off debts from a creditor for a fraction of the face value of the debt. The debt buyer can then collect that debt, or hire a collection agency to collect it, or repackage and resell portions of the purchased portfolio as they see fit.
In an effort to prove that debt-buying is “a grimy business, and badly needs more oversight”, Last Week Tonight opened their own company — a process the host called “disturbingly easy” — called Central Asset Recovery Professionals, or CARP (“after the bottom-feeding fish,” Oliver explained).
Not long after starting the company, Oliver and his team were offered a portfolio of medical debts worth nearly US$15 million for just $60,000.
Instead of going after the $15 million they were now entitled to, the team decided to forgive the debts. “Because on the one hand, it’s obviously the right thing to do,” Oliver explained, “but much more importantly, we’d be staging the largest onetime giveaway in television-show history.”
In a dramatic moment worthy of Oprah herself, Oliver pushed a big red button to officially recognise the debt-forgiving process, while a shower of dollar bills rained down around him.
“Now, clearly, this is only going to help the 9,000 people whose medical debt we bought,” Oliver cautioned in conclusion. “The large issue is, we need much clearer rules and tougher oversight to protect consumers from potentially predatory companies like the one we set up.
“But, in the meantime, it seems the least we can do, with this debt that I cannot f***ing believe we are allowed to own, is to give it away.”