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Reading: Jake Halpern's Bad Paper

Monday, November 3 @ 7PM

Jake Halpern
BAD PAPER: Chasing Debt from Wall Street to the Underworld
The Federal Trade Commission receives more complaints about rogue debt collecting than about any activity besides identity theft. Dramatically and entertainingly, Bad Paper reveals why. It tells the story of Aaron Siegel, a former banking executive, and Brandon Wilson, a former armed robber, who become partners and go in quest of “paper”—the uncollected debts that are sold off by banks for pennies on the dollar. As Aaron and Brandon learn, the world of consumer debt collection is an unregulated shadowland where operators often make unwarranted threats and even collect debts that are not theirs.

Introducing an unforgettable cast of strivers and rogues, Jake Halpern chronicles their lives as they manage high-pressure call centers, hunt for paper in Las Vegas casinos, and meet in parked cars to sell the social security numbers and account information of unsuspecting consumers. He also tracks a “package” of debt that is stolen by unscrupulous collectors, leading to a dramatic showdown with guns in a Buffalo corner store. Along the way, he reveals the human cost of a system that compounds the troubles of hardworking Americans and permits banks to ignore their former customers. The result is a vital exposé that is also a bravura feat of storytelling.

“A dramatic rise-and-fall tale . . . Halpern brings unexpected literary heft to the world of debt collection.” —Kirkus “By fostering a greater understanding of the workings of debt collection, [Bad Paper] sheds enough light into the shadows to compel readers to push for change.” —Publishers Weekly

“Bad Paper is nonfiction that reads like the finest thriller: suspenseful and frightening, eye-opening, and even, at times, funny. Jake Halpern’s fascinating, fearless tour of the underworld of debt collections introduces us to a cast of characters—the (mostly) men behind the scary phone calls—who deserve to be the stars of the next great HBO drama.” —Joseph Finder, bestselling author of Suspicion and Paranoia

“Bad Paper is a riveting tale, fast-paced and filled with unforgettable characters. It is also a deeply reported and powerful exploration of America’s shadow economy.” —David Grann, author of The Lost City of Z and staff writer for The New Yorker
Jake Halpern is a frequent contributor to The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine, the author of Fame Junkies and Braving Home, and the coauthor of three young adult novels. He is a fellow of Morse College at Yale University. His hour-long radio story “Switched at Birth” is one of This American Life’s eight most popular shows ever.

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