Go ahead and hate your neighbor,

Go ahead and cheat a friend.

— Coven (theme from the movie “Billy Jack”)

Last week, I received a direct mail piece telling me how I could make “big dollars” screwing over my neighbors. The writers want to show me how to “take advantage” of hard economic times.

Apparently, there are “great opportunities” sticking it to people who are hurting. The more they hurt, they more you can stick it to them.

Business must be great right now.

The writers said those down on their luck were “business prospects.” For a fee, the authors can show me how to push them further down the economic ladder and make a few bucks myself.

I think I’ll pass.

My temptation is to re-print the letter. I won’t. How do I separate the authors from an economy filled with payday lenders, companies that buy structured settlements and a host of other “great opportunities” for people to stick it to their neighbors?

The letter is a symptom of a larger economic problem. We have made economic exploitation fashionable and profitable.

There may have been a time when companies and people worried about their reputations. That time is long gone.

Many huge, supposedly respectable, companies back payday lenders, offer high-interest credit cards and hire abusive collectors.

Read the back pages of the Wall Street Journal and you will see big name companies getting rapped on the knuckles for doing stuff they know is wrong. They do it anyway.

I never see a company’s stock price fall after those disclosures. There is no shame in getting caught.

I don’t know how to change the nation’s culture to rise up against exploitation. It would require a change in attitude and focus.

I am not crying out for more government regulation. We have a ton of “consumer protection” agencies supposedly in place. I can’t figure out what some of them do. We have set up a system of toothless watchdogs.

Adding more bureaucrats won’t solve problems. I’m not that impressed by the current crew.

The most worthless is the Federal Trade Commission. It sounds like an impressive place, with an impressive title, that is supposed to enforce laws against collectors and credit card companies.

Drop the Federal Trade Commission a letter sometime. See what happens. You will get a form letter back saying that they are going to look at the problem. They won’t.

I guess the FTC doesn’t think there are any abusive collectors out there.

Listen to Dave Ramsey’s radio show. You will hear caller after caller tell horror stories about abusive collectors. Many collectors don’t bother to follow the law. They know they will never get caught.

I never hear Dave telling callers to write the FTC. He knows it is a waste of time.

Thus, collections have become a great “business opportunity.” The more difficult times get, the more opportunities there are.

I want to create another “business opportunity.” A bounty system against exploiters.

You don’t see a lot of poor people suing exploiters. First of all, the people being exploited are poor.

Groceries and gas money get in front of legal fees.

The laws are written to favor the exploiters. If you take an abusive collector or credit card company to court, you don’t get much in return.

Few lawyers take the creditor cases and few people bother to protect their rights. It is as futile as writing the FTC.

If a person got an automatic $100,000 every time they could prove a collector violated the law, you would have lots of whistle blowers interested in turning them in.

When they are losing $100,000 a pop, the wrong-doer population would reform or be quickly gone.

My solution wouldn’t require any new government agencies or tax dollars. Just tweak the laws and allow the legal system to take advantage of the “big opportunity.”

If a person is intent on cheating their neighbors, they would find their neighbor had a “big-dollar business opportunity” in getting them to do the right thing.

It would be alternative way to take advantage of hard times.

Don McNay is chairman of the board for McNay Settlement Group. You can write to him at don@donmcnay.com or read his award-winning column at www.donmcnay.com. McNay is treasurer of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

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