The largest giveaway in TV history

Disgusted by the abuses of US debt-buying businesses, comedian John Oliver has staged what could be the largest giveaway in television history, buying, then forgiving, medical debt totalling almost US$15 million.

On his Last Week Tonight show last week, John Oliver spoke about how, collectively, Americans are in debt to the tune of US$12 trillion – US$346 billion of which is considered seriously delinquent (90 days overdue).

Debt-buying companies buy and resell debt at reduced rates. They often use aggressive, deceptive and, sometimes, illegal tactics to collect money owed.

According to Mr Oliver, debt-buying “is a grimy business,” and “any idiot” could do it.

So he spent US$50 and started his own debt-buying company called Central Asset Recovery Professionals, or CARP – “after the bottom feeding-fish”, as Mr Oliver explained.

Then, for US$60,000, he purchased a medical debt portfolio totalling almost US$15 million and, instead of chasing down the money, he transferred it to a non-profit organisation that specialises in writing off medical debt.

“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.”

His benevolent act eclipsed Oprah Winfrey’s famous giveaway in 2004, when she proffered 276 cars, totalling US$8 million, to her audience.

“Clearly this is only going to help the 9000 people whose medical debt we bought. The larger issue is we need much clearer rules and tougher oversight to protect consumers from potentially predatory companies like the one we set up,” said Mr Oliver to his audience. “In the meantime it seems the least we can do with this debt …is to give it away.”

What do you think of this act? Have you ever been at the mercy of a debt-buying company? Do you think that John Oliver’s action was all a publicity stunt? Or could further good come of this gesture?

Why not watch the segment? (language warning)

Read more at The Age

Related articles:
Dealing with debt collectors
Clearing debt on a limited income
Do your debts die with you?

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