Last Week Tonight host John Oliver has done it again. The British HBO late night host capped a segment on debt collectors on 5 June by announcing he had bought and forgiven nearly $15m (£10.4m) medical debt of 9,000 people. In his latest stunt, Oliver spent $50 and created a company called Central Asset Recovery Professionals (Carp) to purchase $14.9m in medical debt for less than $60,000.
He announced the Oprah-style "giveaway" at the end of a 20-minute segment on debt collectors. The segment zeroed in on how these collectors buy debt from banks on the cheap and then harass or use other aggressive methods to recollect the debt.
"Once the company has bought your debt, whether the information is accurate or not, they are going to try to collect on it," Oliver said. He then delves into all the nasty tactics debt collectors can use against those in debt, from threatening phone calls to even going as far as reaching out to employers.
"Debt-buying is a grimy business and badly needs more oversight, because as it stands any idiot can get into it. And I can prove that to you because I am an idiot and we started a debt-buying company," Oliver added later. "And it was disturbingly easy."
After creating Carp, Oliver was offered a portfolio of medical debt with the names, addresses and social security numbers of nearly 9,000 people. "We bought it, which is absolutely terrifying because it means if I wanted to, I could legally have Carp take possession of that list and have employees start calling people, turning their lives upside down over medical debt," he said.
Instead, the show opted to partner with the RIP Medical Debt charity and forgave the debt. "Thanks to this 5 June airing of the HBO comedy series, Last Week Tonight show with John Oliver, there are a lot more of us now privy to this collection industry practice and the debt treadmill it creates," Craig Antico, co-founder of RIP Medical Debt, said, according to The Guardian. "In a painfully hilarious (debt as funny? Somehow, yes) piece, John Oliver triumphantly out-Oprah's Oprah in giving away valuable gifts."
Oliver capped off the segment by calling for "clearer rules and oversight to protect consumers from potentially predator companies". And with that — and a ping of a giant red button — Oliver forgave the debt of 9,000 very lucky people.