Bad Paper: Chasing Debt from Wall Street to the Underworld (Hardcover)

Chasing Debt from Wall Street to the Underworld

By Jake Halpern

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 9780374108236, 256pp.

Publication Date: October 14, 2014



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 expose that is also a bravura feat of storytelling.

About the Author

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.

Praise For Bad Paper: Chasing Debt from Wall Street to the Underworld

Praise for Braving Home

“The old homily ‘there is no place like home’ has never been more poignantly and wittily revealed than by Jake Halpern in these lovely vignettes.” —Studs Terkel

“Strangely fascinating and endearing . . . In short, it’s terrific.” —Bill Bryson

“Not for a long time have I read a book so good and so wise.” —Robert Stone

Coverage from NPR