New legislation and time-wasting app take aim at robocalls

NEW JERSEY — Robocalls: at best, they're annoying; at worst, they can scam you out of your money.

Already in 2018, Americans have received more than 16 billion robocalls, up from 76 percent from last year.

Now a New Jersey congressman is trying to fight back with the help from a locally developed app.

"They'll call and say you're in debt when you're not. They'll call and say you owe money when you don't," Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) said.

Pallone heard the complaints over and over again. Sometimes his constituents were simply annoyed by the never-ending phone calls, but sometimes robocalls can cause some serious damage.

Chuck Bell, with Consumer Reports, said there's big money in robocall scams.

"Consumers lose as much as 350 million dollars a year to scams that are promoted through robocalls," he said.

So, Pallone is trying to fight back.

He introduced new legislation on Tuesday aimed at cracking down on robocalls at the headquarters of Robokiller, an app that uses answerbots to engage telemarketers in lengthy conversations, wasting time and cutting profits for the spammers, often with comical results.

"With every new user, we put more and more answer bots to work, which means more and more people are being protected from robocalls," said Ethan Garr, with Robokiller. "It means that every time I get a call, someone else is being protected, too. Somebody's elderly grandmother can't get a call from a telemarketer if they're busy talking to my answer bot."

Last month alone, the app wasted 50,000 hours of spammers from robocalls and it all happened without tying up individuals' phones.

Users can make their own answer bots, but the company creates most of them, like when Garr was helping his daughter name all the U.S. presidents.

"I've seen that one keep people engaged for 45 minutes at a time as they try to help me recite the presidents of the United States, which apparently I'm really bad at, especially when I get to Polk," he said.

The app costs $2.99 per month. A one-week free trial is available. Robokiller has about 250,000 users.