Take that Oprah! On Sunday night’s episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver forgave nearly US$15 million in medical debt, beating former daytime maven Oprah Winfrey’s existing record of $8 million in cars to become the largest giveaway in television history.
Oliver took aim at companies that buy up collection agency debt, and then sell off the debtors’ personal information to third parties as they attempt to collect owed money. (For example, going after the debts of dead people, or hounding someone in debt after paying for lifesaving treatment.)
He sought to prove that anybody can become a debt collector.
“It’s pretty clear by now [that] debt buying is a grimy business, and badly needs more oversight, because as it stands any idiot can get into it,” Oliver said. “And I can prove that to you, because I’m an idiot, and we started a debt-buying company. And it was disturbingly easy.”
Following the giveaway, Oliver took to Twitter to send a message to Winfrey.
Here's our piece on the Debt Buying industry from last night. Your move, Oprah… https://t.co/yhZfbCuY5f
— John Oliver (@iamjohnoliver) June 6, 2016
In April, Oliver and his show paid $50 to incorporate a debt collection agency online. They called it CARP, which stands for Central Asset Recovery Professionals. “The bottom-feeding fish,” joked Oliver.
Oliver said CARP was soon offered nearly $15 million in medical debt from Texas for less than $60,000 — and CARP bought it.
“For that amount, CARP would be sent the personal information, including names, current addresses, and Social Security numbers of nearly 9,000 people,” Oliver said.
Instead of hounding the individuals and chasing down the debts, CARP forgave them.
“Why not forgive it?” he pondered. “Because on one hand, it’s obviously the right thing to do. But much more importantly, we’d be staging the largest one-time giveaway in television show history.”
“You are about to watch me give away $15 million,” Oliver said, and pressed a huge red button. “F–k you, Oprah!”