DoNotPay's latest service will auto-cancel your free trials before the billing period starts

DoNotPay (previously) is a collection of consumer-advocacy tools automated the process of fighting traffic tickets, help homeless people claim benefits, sue Equifax for leaking all your financial data, navigating the airlines' deliberately confusing process for getting refunds on plane tickets whose prices drop after you buy them, and filing small-claims suits against crooked corporations.

The service was created by Joshua Browder, a British hacker who moved to the USA to pursue a Stanford computer science degree and who funds operations with a mix of venture capital and cash donations.

His latest feature is the "Free Trial Card" — a virtual credit card that you use to anonymously sign up for services' free trials, using any name and email. When the trial period ends, any attempts to charge the card fail, freeing you from going through the onerous process of cancelling (newspaper paywalls are among the worst for this: the Wall Street Journal lets you create a trial account in seconds with your browser at any time of night or day, but requires you to wait three business days and call a toll number during business hours to cancel the trial, and when you do, you're met with a high-pressure sales-pitch from the person who processes the cancellation).

If you want to continue to use the service after the free trial, fear not: the app automatically emails you when your free trial is about to expire so you can put down a real card to pay for ongoing access.

The card has anti-fraud features to stop you from making real purchases with it. The card number is issued by "a network of community banks, which have a relationship with Browder's company." This arrangement already enables DoNotPay to pay for parking tickets it unsuccessfully appeals. Browder is keeping the name of the bank network secret, to prevent it from being shut down.

None of this sounds exactly on the up and up to financial experts I spoke to, though they don't think it's illegal. When told I didn't know who the issuing bank was for these cards because Browder would not say, Sarah Grotta, director of the Debit Card and Alternative Products Advisory team at the payments analysis group Mercator, said this: "No, no, no, no, we gotta be open about that. That can't be a secret."

For regular credit cards that are used to buy actual goods with real money, Grotta explains, consumers have the right to know who the issuing bank is in case something goes wrong. "They are sort of the holder of the card. If you had an issue, then it's the banks that you'd go to for recourse."

But in this case, the issuing bank doesn't know who you are. They only know who Browder and his company are, since these virtual cards are extensions of a card issued in DoNotPay's name. And if for some reason the card failed to decline, and began actually being charged, it would be Browder paying, not you.

This Clever New Service Auto-Cancels Your Free Trials [Emily Dreyfuss/Wired]