Last Week Tonight gave us another brilliant new episode, this time exposing the huge flaws in the credit reporting system. Host John Oliver and Last Week Tonight's amazing team also put their own spin on the Panama Papers, and the latest scandal to hit Alabama.
First up was their discussion of the Panama Papers, a massive leak of documents exposing how the world's wealthiest have avoided paying taxes by hiding billions offshore. The leak has already had a major impact on how the world views the wealthy, with Iceland's Prime Minister being one of the first casualties. Oliver highlighted the names of just a few other shell corporations named in the leak, which included Goldfinger, GoldenEye, Moonraker, Spectre, and Blofeld, which are infamously associated with a number of Bond villains, making the incorporating law firm's ignorance of any illegal or immoral activity on the part of those corporations a bit less believable.
Oliver moved on to the latest scandal to rock Alabama, a sex scandal involving their governor, Robert Bentley. Allegations of an affair with a staffer arose after a recording was leaked. This recording had him describe his enjoyment of sexual acts with this aide in the most uncomfortable and awkward way possible. As Oliver pointed out, he sounded more like an "eighth grader trying to convince the boys locker room he had sex" by using juvenile terminology and still claiming that "we did sex, y'all" (which is my new favourite John Oliver line ever). Bentley denies the affair took place, but others who have heard the tapes are insistent that he be impeached. Unfortunately, the only people who can oversee this impeachment are are either under investigation for ethics violation, or who were once removed from office for the same reason. Last Week Tonight pointed out that the person most affected by this scandal was Bentley's Executive Assistant, Wanda, who was mentioned on the tapes as being someone who needed to be relocated in order to allow for the affair to continue. In true Last Week Tonight fashion, they will send her an Edible Arrangement to apologize on Bentley's behalf. As an assistant, it's nice to see someone consider our feelings.
The show's main segment dealt with credit reporting agencies, specifically, how central they are to nearly everyone's lives, and yet how often they make critical errors. Your credit score is "the basis for the single three most important digit numbers in your whole life, other than 311, the Beatles of rap-rock". It's true; your credit score can affect everything from whether or not you can obtain a bank loan, to your apartment application, to getting that perfect job.
This is unbelievably unfair for many reasons. Oliver points out that your credit score is no indication for how you will behave as an employee, and even rolled a clip of a top executive from a credit reporting agency testifying that there is no known link between poor credit and incidents of poor job performance or fraud. Basically, credit reporting agencies are saying that "there's no known correlation, but you're free to imagine there is". Oliver further highlighted this by saying that while his credit is reasonably okay, he consistently "wastes HBO's money on stupid costumes, pyrotechnic displays, and checkered dress shirts" which proves that he "clearly cannot manage this company's money well".
There are three main credit reporting firms, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, and a host of other background checking agencies who market their services to employers, landlords, and banks. The problem here is that there seems to be very little accountability for errors, which happens with alarming frequency. The Federal Trade Commission conducted a study which showed that one in four credit reports has an error, and one in 20 have a significant error, which can cause people to lose employment and housing opportunities, often without that person's knowledge. Oliver highlighted the case of one person who was wrongly labelled a terrorist, and another who was flagged as deceased. These errors not only cause a ton of stress and missed opportunities, but can be incredibly costly to fix.
This issue is not new, and has in fact been around for over 20 years. Credit reporting agencies, like the ones listed above, seem to be fine with a 95% accuracy rate. But given the sheer number of people who require credit reports in their daily lives, this leaves nearly 10 million people (the size of the population of Sweden) negatively affected by errors.
To combat this problem, Last Week Tonight created a few fake businesses with names and websites that are "problematically similar" to those of the three main credit reporting agencies. These companies are set up to conduct some horrifically deplorable acts, such as Equifacks, a company that mistreats shelter animals. Their website sets out their business purpose, and states "please do not mistake us for Equifax. Those fuckers are evil". They've also created Experianne, a company who promises to whisper parts of Mein Kampf to babies, and who ask that you "do not mistake us for Experian. What they do is unforgivable". Lastly, they set up a corporation called TramsOnion, who sell orca steaks and dolphin tears. They ask that you understand that they "are not affiliated with TransUnion" because "we are not monsters".
Watch the segment on the flaws inherent in the credit reporting industry below, and tune in to the next episode of Last Week Tonight, next Sunday at 11:00 on HBO.