Jon Broder was sick of getting stiffed. As an attorney and small-business owner, he was tired of clients walking out on small debts -- $500 here, $2,000 there -- knowing full well they wouldn't be worth going to court or hiring a collection agency. But what could he do? Then, one day last year, Broder went to a business lunch at the Tower Club, an exclusive Fort Lauderdale retreat that charges membership fees. On his way out, a message board caught his eye. Displayed prominently by the front door was a list of members who hadn't paid their dues.
"The manager told me: 'When we put it up, people pay,'" Broder says. "I hate to use the word shame, but I suddenly realized that it really does motivate people to pay."
Armed with that insight, Broder has started a website from his Brickell headquarters called the Debtor List, with the aim of shaming Miami's myriad scofflaws into ponying up. The idea is simple: Anyone owed a debt can make it public on the site, including the amount owed and the debtor's name. Then they can share the claims on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks.
People who owe money, Broder hopes, will be red-faced enough to fork over the cash. "If people know that even their smallest debts could end up on the web for everyone they know to see, that's an incentive to pay up," he says.
Take Deborah Rozniewski, a Miami realtor. She took to the site last week to expose $5,000 she says she's owed by one Lyle Wexler over an unpaid cell phone charge a few years ago.
"The idea appealed to me because I want this guy's name out there," she says. "I want other people to know they shouldn't trust him." (We tried to reach Wexler for his side of the story, but he didn't call back.)
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But what if someone lies about a debt? Broder says there are safeguards; the accused can dispute listings, and administrators will mediate disagreements.
Even after they pay up, though, debtors shouldn't expect their names to disappear off the site. Broder plans to update the listing to show they've paid. But getting their names removed? That'll cost extra.
"Along with advertising, that's the heart of our business model," he says.