“Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver made television history when he paid off nearly $15 million of debt from Texas on last night’s show.
For 20 minutes, Oliver focused on the systems behind debt collecting and the corruption surrounding them. The episode explained that when Americans can’t pay their debt, it often ends up in the hands of collection companies which can become aggressive, citing incidents where collectors threatened debtors’ lives.
Oliver also wanted to show how easy it is to become a collector. So he and his team at “Last Week Tonight” incorporated a debt collection company called Central Asset Recovery Professionals Inc. (CARP) for $50 online in Mississippi. Soon after, the company was offered a portfolio from Texas of nearly $15 million of out-of-statute medical debt, which is debt so old it can’t be taken to court. Oliver was able to buy it for around $60,000, making the cost equal to half a cent on the dollar.
For that amount, CARP was sent all the personal information of nearly 9,000 Texans, including names, addresses and social security numbers. But instead of going about things the way a debt collector might, CARP decided to go the other direction and pay off the $14,922,261.76 of debt.
“Now clearly this is only going to help the 9,000 people whose medical debt we bought,” Oliver said. “The larger issue is we need much clearer walls and tougher oversights to protect consumers from potentially predatory companies like the one we set up.”
Oliver described the act as “the largest one-time giveaway in television show history.” Even bigger than that time Oprah gave away almost $8 million in cars.