“Congratulations! You’ve just won a free, all-expenses paid trip to the Bahamas for you and a guest! All we just need is your name and credit card number and you’ll be hitting the seas this summer.”
Sound familiar? If so, you’ve been hit with a robocall, otherwise known as the “scourge of civilization,” in the words of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai. Americans received upwards of 30 billion robocalls in 2019, and the endless spam shows no signs of slowing down.
To get back at the computerized callers, then, consumer advocacy company DoNotPay—a robo lawyer service that provides services to help you dispute parking tickets, cancel free trial subscriptions, or even make DMV appointments—has built an app to help you spot and sue the spammers.
Aptly named Robo Revenge, the free service aims to stand in where big corporations have failed, according to DoNotPay CEO Joshua Browder. He believes robocalls won’t stop merely by virtue of new rules set by the FCC, promising to sue offenders up to $3,000 for each call. Rather, we have to take action ourselves, and make sure the robocallers cough up that change.
“Consumers have to protect themselves,” Browder told Motherboard. “The only way the problem will end is if the robocallers start losing money every time they call someone.”
1) First, you have to create an account with DoNotPay. You can then access Robo Revenge through the DoNotPay app or through your web browser.
2) Robo Revenge will automatically add your phone number to the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) National Do Not Call Registry, which makes it illegal for robocallers to contact you without your express, written consent, or else they’ll face hefty fines.
3) Next, the app will issue you a virtual DoNotPay burner credit card. It’s pretty much a disposable credit card that is encrypted, uses DoNotPay’s name, and obscures any of your own personal data. (It’s not a real credit card, so don’t try to use it as such.) It’s meant for immediate use, so as soon as a spammer asks you for your credit card information, have your DoNotPay burner card ready and give up those digits (it’ll expire after five minutes). Keep in mind you can only generate four of these cards per month, and each is only meant for single use.
4) Robo Revenge uses the transaction to gather information about the robocaller and then guides you through the process of suing them. Think of it like a legal chatbot.
5) The app will generate and send an automated letter demanding compensation to the caller. You’ll be paid up to $3,000 per call for spammers who are ultimately caught.
⚠️ Note: The service is technically free, but upon creating an account with DoNotPay, you’ll be asked to provide your real credit card info. The company will charge you for a donation of $3 per month only if you make money through one of its services, like receiving cash for suing a robocaller.
Robo Revenge isn’t a be-all, end-all solution for the robocall problem. Detractors say the app won’t block international robocalls, for example. Plus, the process for suing and collecting damages from a robocaller vary by state.
“Think very carefully about any decision to take legal action against a telemarketer,” warns the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a San Diego-based nonprofit that helps protect consumer information. “If you choose to sue them, you will be required to provide your address to them! Do you really want to do this?”
The nonprofit goes on to caution that any proceeds that you may receive as damages may be taxable if over $600. Even worse, the telemarketer may need your social security number to issue you a Form 1099 for miscellaneous income.
That said, here are some of your other options outside of suing:
📞 Use a call-blocking app. Check out ctia.org, a site for the U.S. wireless communications industry, for a full list of apps. Some free ones include AT&T Call Project, Mr. Number Lookup & Call Block, and Hiya.
📞 Register your phone number on the FTC’s National Do Not Call Registry. The agency says over 239.5 million phone numbers have been registered on this database and over four million of those were added in 2019 alone. Even if you aren’t planning to use Robo Revenge, you can do this on your own in less than five minutes. Each robocaller can be sued for up to $42,530 per call.
📞 If you answer a call and find that it’s a robocaller, quickly hit your phone’s “mute” button to stop feedback from your microphone. Often, robocallers are looking to see if your phone number is active, and providing zero audio feedback just may get your number off of their call list.