We have all made the mistake of signing up for a free trial and then totally forgetting to cancel it before it rolls over for another month and charges your credit card in the process. Frankly, that's what most companies are counting on when they offer you a free crack at their service. An app called DoNotPay wants to make sure that you never get tricked into forking over cash for a service that you aren't using, and it has a novel way of doing it: by creating a fake credit card for you.
Here's the way DoNotPay's new Free Trial Card feature works. Whenever you want to sign up for a trial of a service, fire up the app and it will give you a virtual credit card, complete with a card number, expiration date and security code. It can also give you a fake name and a temporary email address to receive any messages from the service if needed. When the trial period is over, the card declines any additional charges. That means you don't have to set any reminders or circle the date on your calendar to make sure that you cancel manually. Since the person signing up for the trial essentially doesn't exist, there's nothing for you to worry about. Of course, if you do want to convert to being a paying customer for that rare service that is worth your cash, DoNotPay will send email to remind you that the trial is coming to an end so you can swap in your real payment information and continue using the service, or sign up for it again using your real information.
The core belief behind DoNotPay's virtual credit card is one that all services should require users to opt-in, not opt-out. In an ideal world, trial services would not ask for your credit card in the first place, until you actively chose to give it to them in order to pay for the service. Instead, most services ask you to for your card up-front and are ready and waiting to charge it the second that the trial period is up. If you view that type of policy as an attempt to screw you over, then you probably won't feel too bad about screwing over those companies in return with a fake card.
There is a catch with DoNotPay, and it's potentially legally dubious. The process works because DoNotPay has a relationship with community banks that have given the app permission to act as a paying agent for customers — but those banks aren't actually aware of how DoNotPay is running its transactions. The creator of DoNotPay, Joshua Browder, told Wired that the banks don't know that the app is creating virtual credit cards. He's taken precautions, including not naming the network of banks and making sure the cards only work if a transaction involves no actual money being exchanged, but there's still no guarantee that the service will be around for long. There's also the fact that companies offering trials may view this whole process as an attempt to commit fraud. After all, it's a credit card that has the capability of actually paying for a service. If DoNotPay ruffles enough feathers, be it at the banks or at these companies, it may go belly up sooner rather than later.
Whether DoNotPay manages to survive or not, it's clear that this type of service is in demand for consumers. PYMNTS reported this month that nearly half of all merchants offer free trials, meaning there are plenty of opportunities for consumers to get roped into making payments they weren't planning on. According to a USA Today report, Americans drop more than $14 billion annually in unwanted charges, with the average person out $215 to services and products they didn't intend to pay for. Even credit card companies know consumers are looking for some additional protection from these types of charges. Earlier this year, Mastercard announced new protections to keep subscription plans for physical products from rolling over into unwanted payments. Extending that to digital products like subscription plans for streaming music or video services would be a major step forward. For now, as long as it's available, DoNotPay will do the trick.