tonight, on "nightline," dirty debt. we investigation abusive collection agencies, threatening people nationwide to save debt they don't even owe. how one woman fought back. and hidden america. she dreamed of becoming a surgeon but she lives in a city of cardboard where 100,000 children are surviving off the grid. tonight, a story of hope of people who call themselves the forgotten ones. plus, carrie unplugged. she went from "american idol" to multiplat tum super star. tonight, carrie underwood talks marriage, kids sbtd song that touched her heart. >> announcer: from the global resources of abc news, with terry moran, cynthia mcfadden and bill weir in new york city,
this is "nightline," april 25th, 2012. good evening. i'm cynthia mcfadden. tonight, we begin with the outrageous case of a debt collector who harasses and torments a woman for a debt she doesn't owe. millions of people across the nagts are in debt, and the collection business is booming. but some of the collections techniques you will see tonight are way over the line. and this time, they tangled with the wrong woman. abc news's elizabeth leemy reports. >> reporter: wheeling, west virginia s a small town. but diana mey has done something big. going after a debt collector that went after her and others nationwide. >> i'm a mom and a housewife and
an accidental activist. >> reporter: the court ordered the company to pay diana $10 million. but she is is not stopping there. the latest project to turn the tables and collect from the collectors. >> i don't know that i will ever collect a dime, but if i can get their operation shut down that would make me happen. >> reporter: it started two years ago when a debt collector called her and said her house was in jeopardy if she didn't pay. >> they with in the process of serving court documents. >> it wasn't even our debt. >> the contract 866-764-9779. >> reporter: diana wrote them and cease and desist letter. and then days later she received a call that looked like it was
from the sheriff's department. >> i'm trying to reach diana? >> this is diana. >> [ bleep ]. >> who? >> [ bleep ]. >> pardon me? >> it was a word -- i was stunned. >> i want to collect the debt. >> i felt violated. and then i realized -- >> you know what is very interesting. speak up a little clearer, because you're on tape. i immediately hung up. and i dialed 911. and i said, you need to send someone to the sheriff's department, there was someone there that was threatening me. >> reporter: you were terrified. >> i was. i came upstairs and i got my
husband's gun and i hung it on the bed post. >> reporter: later, she learned the caller id had been manipulated to look like it came from the sheriff's office. and then she learned online about the company calls women vulgar names. >> he is picked the wrong person. he absolutely picked the wrong person. >> reporter: she has fought calls before. in 1999, she won a class action against a major telemarketer who would wouldn't stop. >> you know there's a big tlin do you it. >> people like this shouldn't be in prison. they belong in prison. >> reporter: diana's attorney sued for aharassment and collect
practices rfa's lawyer failed to show up in court. the judge called the company malicious and awarded the $10 million judgment. we found rfa's orange county office abandoned. we learned it was run by several people. so we contacted other offices. i want to talk to someone about the $10 million lawsuit? >> thank you very much, have a good day. >> reporter: do they make it a habit of impersonating police officers? >> i'm not going to say anything. >> reporter: next, we went to what we learned to be the headquarters of empire. do you plan or paying the
settlement. and finally, the layer. >> you don't show up in court. we thought you might want to respond now. >> we are responding now. >> reporter: okay. later, he said that rfa made the first collection call but denies the obscene call. he calls the $10 million judgment unfair. but diana mey is trying to collect it. >> you have to follow the law. do if you don't, there are going to be people who stand up against you. what a case and what a woman. thanks to elizabeth leemy. up next, the hopes and dreams of one young girl growing up off the grid in america. ♪ [ male announcer ] aggressive styling. a more fuel-efficient turbocharged engine. and a completely redesigned interior.
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girl growing up in a place few of us can imagine, one of the poorest and most barren stretches of this country, called las colonias. they are really colonies where american citizens have settled on cheap and rugged land where some of the children have the biggest of dreems. tonight, john quinones takes on a dream. >> reporter: they are called shanty towns and 500,000 people,
mostly citizens, call them home. a staggering number on children. among them, a 12 yard line girl. >> i stale wheer my ster, and my two brothers sleep on the floor. >> reporter: the two boys sleep on the floor. >> yeah. >> reporter: maria, a girl with big drims. >> i want to do a surgeon for people who need the surgery and can't afford it. >> reporter: you want to take care of people who can't afford it. in some ways, maria is like most other american girls her age. she wants to look her best for school and rides in a big yellow bus to get there. and for maria, happiness comes in simple ways like playing flute in the school band.
how does playing music make you feel? >> i feel happy. i can do anything. >> reporter: you see, maria is growing up in a kind of no man's land. off the grid, tough to lay where land is barren and cheap. there are no sewers here, no drain ge or street lamps. in this case, the people here bar row electrical power from a neighbor, three houses away. maria helps take care of nine brothers and sisters and two cousins in this tiny house. your family built this house? >> yeah, he started the back part. this is the kitchen. >> reporter: the tortillas over there. how long you have lived her?
alma castros is maria's mother. how did you survive, we had no option, but to survive, she tells me. alma is up at 5:00 every morning to help harvest the fruits and vegetables that feeds the rest of the nation. she earns $7 an hour. you take to the field. you want them to know how hard it is. she wants them to aspire to so much more. you don't study or nothing? >> si. >> reporter: hardly anyone here has cell phones or computers. children go outside to play. evelyn is 8 years old. what would you like to have more of that you don't get? >> more food. >> reporter: more food.
sometimes you don't have enough food here? it's no wonder many of the residents call themselves the forgotten ones. their homes are build crudely with scrap material and flood when it rains. yet, all that is largely ignore the by state and county officials. >> these are the hidden people. they are the hid the people. and they are caught between a rock and hard place. no money will be put in for economic development because what do colonias have to do for kpik development? >> reporter: ann cass is an activist here. your advice to washington about what to do for folks who live here? how to fix the problem? >> don't let these people remain hidden any longer. they are paying taxes. they have a right to decent
housing and opportunity. >> reporter: what keeps you going? [ speaking foreign language ] your children? what are your dreams? it's okay, it's okay. a tough little flower, blossoming through the cracks, even in this neglected and barren area of america. for "nightline," i'm john quinowns in midding american. up next, she is the girl that is topping the country charts. very personal with carrie understoodwood. and she became the full time mother of three. it was soccer, and ballet, and cheerleading, and baseball. those years were crazy.
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well, carrie underwood, she is the small-town girl who entered a big time singing contest and went on to become a multiplatinum country star. the most successful "american idol" alumni to date. tonight, she takes juju chang for a night on the town. ♪ a good girl >> reporter: carrie underwood is one of the hottest names in music with 11 number one hits like "american girl." ♪ american girl >> this is penny. penny jean. >> reporter: but she is also a home body who loves spending time with her two closest companions on tour, ace and
penny. you take them on the tour? >> yeah. >> reporter: they have their own bunk? >> no, they sleep with me. >> reporter: your husband doesn't like sleeping on the tour bus. >> it's like, good night. and we turn over. >> reporter: he is a pro hockey player. she has won more awards than her wildest dreams and just 7 short years ago, she was a no-name contestant on "american idol." ♪ 'cause i can't make you love me ♪ >> going to l.a. for "american idol" was so scary. i was crying in the car on the way to the airport. i was flying for the first time, and flying by myself. >> you are win this show and you are sell more records than
anyone. >> reporter: simon cowell. >> he likes to remind people of that. >> reporter: underwood, now 29, is struggling with the same question young women ask, when to start a family. >> i'm fine and happy and really thinking about the idea of having kids. and then another day, i'm like, gosh, no, what? ♪ >> reporter: the shy, small-town girl has come out of her shell, belting out a warning for a man to think before he cheats. ♪ before he cheats do you ever worry about him being faithful? >> no, with mike, it was never, never crosses my mind. >> reporter: because? >> well, i know he loves me and
i know he loves god. and he wouldn't do that to either one of us. >> reporter: while she may not be ready to start family yet, she is about to give birth to her album, which features a love song close to her heart, called "forever changed." >> telling this beautiful story about a woman being married and having kids and kind of being at the end of her life. and it's just -- ooh, i get emotional talking about the song to be honest. i am sorry. this is why i can never sing this song. you know, i know -- one of the writers, he wrote it about his mom, suffering from alzheimer's and i remember my grandmother at the end of her life, looking at
my dad and thinking that was my grandfather, looking at my dad. ♪ >> reporter: what's it like singing at the grand ole opry? >> it's not like any place in the world. >> reporter: just being invited at the grand ole opry was exciting. you are not struggling iffer the spotlight? >> it's not like i'm like, leave me alone. it comes with it but i don't need it. >> reporter: she may not need it, but she is certainly enjoying the "nightline," i'm . >> check with "jimmy kimmel live" next.