A Lone Salesman Took Down A Massive Phantom Debt Racket
You might want to sit down for this: People who work in payday lending and debt collection aren't always the straightest of arrows. We'll give you time to gather your displaced monocles. Anyway, the scummiest tactic found among this crowd is called "phantom debt." Sharks and collectors try to convince downtrodden debtors to pay fake debts, knowing they don't have the energy to fight back. Unfortunately for the phantom debt industry, they made a formidable enemy. No, not the IRS, the CIA, or the Avengers. Some guy named Andy.
In 2015, ace salesman Andrew Therrien started getting calls saying he owed $700 on a payday loan which he'd never taken. Therrien, a straight shooter, told the collector to buzz off. Then he threatened to come over and rape Therrien's wife. (Did we mention these people have rats for souls? We didn't? Well, they do.) So Therrien did what every middle-class white-collar husband would do: He launched a years-long scorched-earth crusade against the U.S. debt collection industry, with the goal of discovering who had fabricated his phantom debt and make him pay.
Bloomberg BusinessweekWe dare you to read that and not hear a clap of ominous thunder.
Therrien, a dogged moralist and virtuoso phone negotiator, turned himself into the Dick Tracy of tracing dicks. At night he would harass collectors by phoning them nonstop until they gave up a name, slowly building a network of scumbag informants. When the leads went cold, he would occasionally make small payments on his fake loans just to see where the money would travel. To his family and friends, he was but a promotional salesman who spent a bit too much time locked away in his home office. But to loan sharks, he was the main character from Taken -- Liam Taken, we're pretty sure his name was.
Therrien tracked the kingpin of this massive network of phantom debt collection to Kansas City. Joel Tucker had packaged $7.7 million in fake debt through loan packages and sold it off to the shadiest bidders, including the person who threatened Therrien. Therrien confronted Tucker over the phone, whereupon he claimed he had no idea his company had systematically and intentionally ruined thousands of people's lives. But that only made Therrien angrier. He leaned on his network of contacts until he obtained hard proof of Tucker's heinous crimes. He mailed all his evidence to the FTC, who nearly tripped over their own shoes bringing him in to help bring Tucker's empire down.
In 2016, Joel Tucker was ordered by a judge to pay $34.2 million -- money he claimed not to have and which, in what had to be the sweetest of ironies, would permanently drown him in debt.
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