HBO host John Oliver bought and forgave $15 million of medical debt during his show “Last Week Tonight,” while at the same time breaking a record for the largest one-time TV giveaway.
In a 20-minute segment that aired on June 5, Oliver explained how cruel debt collection agencies and collectors can be.
Debt collectors generate more complaints to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) than any other industry, the agency says. The FTC has also sued more than 30 debt collection companies for violating the law.
“It is 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,” said Oliver.
“And I can prove that to you, because I’m an idiot, and we started a debt-buying company. And it was disturbingly easy,” he said.
The host explained that his show spent $50 to launch a debt collection agency online in Mississippi, with Oliver as the head of it.
“We called it Central Asset Recovery Professionals, or CARP, after the bottom-feeding fish,” Oliver said.
CARP was offered almost $15 million in medical debt from Texas for less than $60,000.
“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.
CARP bought the debt, but not in the way regular agencies would.
Instead of hounding people to pay off their debt, he decided to go the other way.
“Why not forgive it? 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,” said Oliver.
We just made TV history! Thanks for watching! Or…congratulations for watching? pic.twitter.com/KnVMEa95Km
— Last Week Tonight (@LastWeekTonight) June 6, 2016
The previous record holder was none other than daytime legend, Oprah Winfrey. Back in 2004, Winfrey gave away a car to each member of the studio audience—totaling $8 million.
Oliver’s show ran 5 minutes over time, but Oliver said it was worth it to beat Oprah’s record, playfully yelling an expletive at her at the end of the show.
Tonight at 11 @LastWeekTonight is back! The show will be five minutes longer, and it’s worth watching to the end to see why…
— John Oliver (@iamjohnoliver) June 6, 2016