Summary and book reviews of Bad Paper by Jake Halpern

Bad Paper

Chasing Debt from Wall Street to the Underworld

by Jake Halpern

Bad Paper by Jake Halpern
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2014, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2015, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sinéad Fitzgibbon

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Book Summary

A vital exposé that is also a bravura feat of storytelling.

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.

1
THE $14 MILLION GAMBLE

In 2005, when he was thirty-one years old, Aaron Siegel decided to leave his job on Wall Street and move back to his hometown. He was drawn to Buffalo—the self-proclaimed "city of no illusions"—because of its modest scale, its historic neighborhoods, and its general lack of pretension. After so much time in Manhattan and London, something about Buffalo was refreshingly real. What's more, the Siegel family name meant something there and it lent Aaron not just credibility or prestige, but a sense that he belonged—that he mattered. Aaron returned to Buffalo, along with his wife, who was also from upstate New York, and he took a job at a local division of Bank of America specializing in private wealth management. He resolved to stay there until he could figure something else out. The only problem was that he had almost no work to do. "I spent my days spinning around in a chair and throwing pencils at the ceiling," Aaron said. "There was nothing ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Bad Paper is smart reportage written in an engaging, fast-paced narrative style. Despite the mention of Wall Street in the title, it is mercifully free of confusing financial jargon. This is a well-told true-life tale. But with its kaleidoscopic cast of characters and a storyline that would be the envy of any Hollywood blockbuster, it is also an irresistibly thrilling read.   (Reviewed by Sinéad Fitzgibbon).

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Media Reviews

Chicago Tribune

Bad Paper gives readers an intimate knowledge of the debt-collecting industry, but more important, it gives a comprehensive profile of the people in our country who live and die by the industry. This, ultimately, is the book's power and attraction.

The Boston Globe

[A] wonderful inquiry into the seamy, multilayered world of consumer debt collection . . . both an entertaining sociology of the debt-collecting fraternity and a picaresque romp through the industry’s most unsavory byways.

Kirkus Reviews

A dramatic rise-and-fall tale... Halpern brings unexpected literary heft to the world of debt collection.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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.

Author Blurb Joseph Finder, bestselling author of Suspicion and Paranoia
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.

Author Blurb David Grann, author of The Lost City of Z and staff writer for The New Yorker
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.

Reader Reviews

dpfaef

the dark side...
Debt collection has always had a bad reputation, this book does nothing to dispel that reputation. Jake Halpern follows an ex Wall Street Banker and an ex-convict set up shop in the Collection Capital, Buffalo, which is home to some of the largest ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Psychology of Debt

In Bad Paper: Chasing Debt from Wall Street to the Underworld, Jake Halpern examines the afterlife of a debt once it has been declared "bad." But is there ever such a thing as a 'good' debt? What would you do if you won a million dollars? Would you buy that grand house you've always dreamed of? Or the big sports car? Perhaps you'd give to charity or put the money aside for your children's future? We all indulge in daydreams like this from time to time; who among us hasn't thought about the things we could buy if only we could afford them? For the most part, this kind of thinking is nothing more than harmless escapism; a little light relief from the daily grind. Sometimes, however, the line between fantasy and...

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