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Tech by VICE

This App Automatically Cancels and Sues Robocallers

It's the newest offering from consumer advocacy group DoNotPay.

by Edward Ongweso Jr
Feb 12 2020, 1:00pm

Image: AndreyPopov via Getty 

DoNotPay, the family of consumer advocacy services meant to protect people from corporate exploitation, is launching a new app aimed at helping end our long national nightmare surrounding robocalls by giving you a burner credit card to get their contact details then giving you a chatbot lawyer to automatically sue them.

We are all used to robocalls at this point—they are the number one consumer complaint to the FCC. Their emergence has been explosive: according to a report by First Orion, a company that offers caller ID and call blocking technology to phone carriers and customers, in 2017, they accounted for only 3.7 percent of all calls. By 2018, that number spiked to 29.2 percent and on track to hit 50 percent of all calls by the end of 2019. By now, the United States receives the eighth-most spam calls globally with Americans suffering an average of 18 robocalls each month.

Over the past year, there have been a few attempts at stemming this growing tide, but to no avail. The FCC has made increasingly aggressive moves to stop this “scourge of civilization”, both empowering major carriers to block robocalls while threatening legal action against companies assisting robocallers. The recently passed TRACED Act also grants the FCC new powers to pursue and punish illegal robocalls. Now, federal fines can reach as high as $10,000 per call and requires major carriers to adopt new technology that will alert consumers to incoming robocalls.

Every solution, however, will be undermined by the fact that the United States has a multitude of problems preventing robocalls from being seriously curbed including the fact that carriers have trouble distinguishing between next-generation robocalls and copper wire phone calls and that telecommunications industry has been slow to adopt caller ID authentication, meaning spoofed robocalls are even harder to spot.

Enter DoNotPay Founder and CEO Joshua Browder’s Robo Revenge app—unique from every other app looking to protect you from robocalls in that it can get you cash while stopping them completely.

“All of the big companies like AT&T and Apple have failed to protect consumers,” Browder told Motherboard over the phone. “Consumers have to protect themselves. The only way the problem will end is if the robocallers start losing money every time they call someone.”

In the past, DoNot Pay has offered various apps to help consumers fight back. DoNotPay’s Free Trial Card creates a virtual, one-time-use credit card to protect you from getting charged by “industrialized scams” like free trials. DoNotPay's original offering was a chatbot lawyer program that automatically disputed parking tickets in small claims court.

Robo Revenge combines both features to automatically add you to the Do Not Call Registry, generate a virtual DoNotPay burner credit card to provide scammers when they illegally call you anyways, use the transaction information to get the scammer’s contact information, then walk you through how to sue them for as much as $3,000 per call under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), a law already on the books meant to protect consumers from calls that violate the Do Not Call Registry. The app also streamlines the litigation paperwork by automatically generating demand letters and court filing documents.

“There are two types of scammers. There are the scammers based abroad who are trying to get your bank details—those people you can’t sue because you don’t even know where they are. But the type we can stop is the businesses like a U.S. based travel company trying to sell you a cruise and asking for your credit card number,” Browder said. “We can take them out with U.S. based laws. If they’re calling someone and every time they’re calling someone, there’s a risk of a penalty, maybe they’ll think twice.”

Together, new legislation and mass adoption of the app might be sufficient to overcome the technological and regulatory difficulties of reigning in illegal robocallers. Browder, however, also wants to shift some agency back into the consumer’s hands.

“Lawyers have already been making millions suing these scammers, but the average person, who doesn’t understand the law (and doesn’t even know who is calling them), is stuck,” Browder told Motherboard. “Our automated process, combined with the fake credit card, gives this power back to the average person.”

Tagged:
Money
telecom
Robocalls
consumer advocacy
free trials
spam calls
virtual credit card