Lawyer Recorded in ‘Last Week Tonight’ Segment Speaks Out

Howard Weber got a phone call on Friday from a staff member from HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” letting him know that someone had taped Weber during his session at DBA International‘s annual conference in February.

Weber, who runs the law office of Howard Weber in New York, said he thought it would help the industry to have someone defending it during the segment.

The segment aired during last night’s episode and has caused a huge stir in the industry. John Oliver, the host of the show, revealed that the show had people wearing hidden cameras attend and record footage at DBA’s conference in February. DBA has not responded to a request for comment.

“We’re helping people who are struggling with debt try to restructure debt to get their lives back in order,” Weber said during the conference.

“Oh yeah, they’re really helping people get their ducks in a row, but only in the ‘window of a Chinese restaurant’ sense,” Oliver retorted.

Along with showing Weber, talking about how the industry helps the economy by securing money from sources who would not have ordinarily been paying, the footage also shows another speaker talking about the complexities of collection letters and how most consumers do not read them, and showed the exhibit booth of Bankrupt Debt Acquisition, which included the opportunity for attendees to receive free shoe shines.

The company declined the chance to comment.

Oliver details how he went on to form a corporation called Central Asset Recovery Professionals (Or CARP for the bottom-feeding fish), then purchased nearly $15 million of out-of-statute medical debt from Texas individuals for about $60,000, Oliver said. The portfolio was then transferred to RIP Medical Debt, and was forgiven. There was no word whether CARP or RIP Medical Debt would be issuing 1099(c) forms to individuals who had more than $600 of debt forgiven so that the individuals could report the gift on their taxes.

“As I had anticipated, the piece was one-sided and certainly, you can get a lot of humor by highlighting the abuses of any industry,” Weber said in an email. “What it left out was the most overlooked fact—that debtors owe money. The fact that an individual uses a credit card to buy luxury items for his home, or takes cash advances into the thousands of dollars, and then fails to repay it is overlooked. The overwhelming majority of debtors owe the money they are sued for—and it doesn’t matter whether the original creditor has sold the debt, the fact remains that no individual is entitled to a ‘windfall’ because the debt was sold and therefore should not be collected.

“So while it makes for better television to highlight collectors overstepping their boundaries, or to castigate an industry that is among the most heavily regulated, it might make more sense to highlight debtors who escape payment of debt by using the maze of regulations to their advantage.”

What’s most interesting is that Oliver chose to all-but ignore that individuals are responsible for their financial obligations, whether buying a house or a car or going to the doctor. It’s an unfortunate part of life, to be sure, but individuals should not be able to walk away from their debts. And the debt-buying industry has grown up a lot in the past two decades. The amount of regulatory scrutiny has intensified exponentially  and cleaned up much of its act.

Oliver, and other such commentators, are able to make a living because there are plenty of areas of the world that are not perfect. Oliver has gone after Donald Trump, the confusing nature of political primaries, problems with the 911 system, special districts, and more. It’s easy — and somewhat irresponsible — to use old reports and anecdotal evidence to demonize an entire industry. For example, Oliver lists the states where a license is not required to collect on a debt. Is that the fault of the debt-buying industry? No, it’s not. But lumped in as part of a 20-minute segment last night, it was made to look like the entire industry is trying to circumvent, obfuscate, and operate illegally. While it may have been funny to watch, it was by no means the educational or public service announcement that it is purported to be.

 

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