Oops, Your Balance Is: ($211,010,028,257,303.00)

from the math-is-hard dept

A few years ago, an honest Virginia man reported a bank error that resulted in an extra $1.8 million dollars in his bank account -- not once, but three times. Where did all of that money come from? Perhaps they have now found the source. This week, a Georgia man was notified that he had a negative balance of $211 trillion at his Wachovia bank account. His debt makes the national debt, which is only slightly over $9 trillion, seem like small potatoes. Luckily for him, Wachovia reports that the balance was caused by an isolated banking error, and that he was not liable for any charges related to the negative balance. In this case, the error was that his account number was entered in place of his balance. Like the $218 trillion phone bill we saw in 2006, why are errors of this magnitude not caught by some sort of bounds checking algorithm in the bank's software? Furthermore, if an error this size gets through all of the checks and balances, then what other, less noticeable errors are falling through the cracks every day?

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Able-X, Dec 4th, 2007 @ 7:13pm

    bounds check

    They need to listen to more MC Plus + is the problem..

    "...and I do a bounds check before I write to an array.."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 4th, 2007 @ 7:16pm

    I catch bank errors frequently. Generally for nickle and dime stuff but errors all the same. I had one bank that even got debit card swipes wrong. I had to start keeping the reciepts so I could prove things were off.

    I'd like to think someone would notice a huge error but I'm not surprised they still do not.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 4th, 2007 @ 7:23pm

    Re: bounds check

    That wasn't MC++, it was Mozzy..

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Steven Ashley, Dec 4th, 2007 @ 7:37pm

    The Errors Are Getting Bigger And Bigger

    I wouldn't want to be the head of Wachovia's QA department right about now.

    As more and more data is made available online, the larger and larger the data breaches are likely to be. But in this case we aren't talking thousands or millions of records, we are only talking about one that we know of.

    So in this case it appears to be a simple miss by the QA department, a huge miss but a simple miss none the less.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Jeffry Houser (profile), Dec 4th, 2007 @ 7:39pm

    I hope that...

    I hope that the bank is going to change this guys account number...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    oops, Dec 4th, 2007 @ 7:48pm

    At first when I saw that headline, I was like "I wish that was my balance" but then I realized it was negative and thought "Oh wait, that is my balance" :(

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    TriZz, Dec 4th, 2007 @ 8:00pm

    Re: @oops


    Why even come out and say that the customer isn't going to be held responsible for that? I mean, seriously. If I walked into a bank and showed them my -2 trillion account balance, I'd just hand it to the bank manager and say "fix that".

    I'd probably do the same if I found my account off by a million dollars too.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 4th, 2007 @ 8:06pm

    AC ^^ it wasn't Mozzy, it was Monzy ;) - from memory, it's his song "Kill Dash Nine" ... or possibly "So much drama in the PHD"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    zcat, Dec 4th, 2007 @ 8:24pm

    Poor guy..

    So the whole world now knows that his bank account number is 211-01002-82573-03, welcome to identity-theft hell! :-)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 4th, 2007 @ 8:59pm

    and his bank is wachovia, so not hard to get a routing number if you can identify a local paper or city.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    atomatom, Dec 4th, 2007 @ 9:03pm

    Re: Poor guy..

    What exactly can you do with someone's bank account number... I mean, I can get yours easily enough, here, cash this cheque.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 4th, 2007 @ 9:13pm

    Re: Poor guy..

    Only if his account started with a zero balance, since the account number was subtracted from it. So most likely, the first 11 or 12 digits are correct.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    The buck stops....?, Dec 4th, 2007 @ 10:46pm

    Re: The Errors Are Getting Bigger And Bigger

    Thats not a QA problem, its a QC problem. A simple self check would have picked the problem

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    some dude who's right, Dec 4th, 2007 @ 10:59pm


    the account's closed, so it doesn't really matter what any of you want to do with the number. Have fun being fruitless.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Mythos, Dec 4th, 2007 @ 11:03pm

    Guess Work

    I work in the check processing department for a bank. You don't want to know how poor quality control is... We often just guess at account numbers that we need to re-enter but can't read off the check. The demand is on meeting deadlines not accuracy. I get a small bonus for decent accuracy, but I have an hour long meeting with people I don't like for missing a deadline.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Hammertime, Dec 5th, 2007 @ 12:30am


    Wrong again. It was MC Hammer

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    some dude who's wrong, Dec 5th, 2007 @ 12:38am



    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    sean, Dec 5th, 2007 @ 2:11am

    Should have charged the bank

    A guy in Ireland, retiring to Portugal, transferred the proceeds from his house sale, and instead of 310k, he got about 30 million, due to a misplaced decimal point. He called the bank, told them that they made an error, and asked for a harrassment fee because of all the bother they put him to.

    He got it to, about 60k euro IIRC - the bank could either give it to him, or start an international court case...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Jenny, Dec 5th, 2007 @ 4:35am

    Comment to Sean (18)

    I love how he asked for a harrassment fee. Unbeleivable. I wish thy could make the same mistake for me. EzyPzy Websites - http://www.ezy-pzy.com

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Brian, Dec 5th, 2007 @ 4:58am

    Re: Should have charged the bank

    This is a clear sign of what is wrong with the world. Now I am sure there were some issues connected with him getting too much money but how does any of that warrant 60,000 euro unless it was to cover expenses connected with the transfer of the excessive funds back to the originating bank. Back when everyone was not looking for a "payday" event he would have had the money sent back and had a good story to tell at parties. Now he wants paid because he was wronged in some way. I really hope the next time he makes a mistake the people affected find some means to get their pound of flesh.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Steve, Dec 5th, 2007 @ 5:32am

    I would like to say

    I would like to say I'm suprised, but it is Wachovia. Wachovia has the most ancient banking software around. Old ATM card readers, old ATM software, constant fees, this doesn't surprise me at all. Wachovia has major, major problems.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Paul`, Dec 5th, 2007 @ 5:34am

    What the hell...

    How the hell could a bank screw up like that? You can make spreadsheets that could pick that sort of error up, how could a banks software not be programed to think a $200trillion deposit or withdrawal might, just maybe, be an error?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    steve, Dec 5th, 2007 @ 5:47am

    Re: Re: Poor guy..

    You can do LOTS with a bank account and the dirty secret is that YOU have to suffer while the bank checks for Credit fraud if you file a complaint against a charge.

    I had an account with FifthThird Bank (5/3) that I just reacently went though this hell... a Gas company put a $97 charge (not much, but its the principal of the matter) against my account. When I contested it, the bank couldn't produce any valid check or signiture for the charge, but it was labled as an Electronic transaction. The company took the $97 and 53 bank had to try and track it down.

    I'll let you read more here if you want:


    But basically you can NOT stop an electronic transaction from taking your money. And with scanned checks and OCR imaging of checks, this will happen more and more.

    I do computers for a living.. I DONT trust them when autimated with my money. I've since closed the account and carry cash only. I have another account to cash checks and then take the cash. Don't trust banks... Especially the more and more they rely on computers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Johnson Johnson, Dec 5th, 2007 @ 5:48am

    Re: I hope that...

    I was thinking the same thing...maybe they should have rounded off his balance to $211,000,000,000,000.00 for the article to protect the person's identity.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    MEoip, Dec 5th, 2007 @ 6:10am


    There is little double checking going on in banks. I enter an amount to pay a bill it's considered right, no one checks this amount until it's to late.
    Maybe my bills should be feed to my bank's website so when I go to do epay it can double check my entry against the amount billed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 5th, 2007 @ 6:22am


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    Matt, Dec 5th, 2007 @ 6:23am


    All these companies are not taking technology seriously, and it is a major flaw in their part.They don't want to spend the money to keep their hardware and software updated. As said earlier.... there are ways to check for a 211 trillion withdrawl.... Just like TJ Maxx using WEP encryption to protect their networks.... unencrypting transactions sent to the bank... etc etc etc.... These companies need to get with the picture.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    Phil, Dec 5th, 2007 @ 6:39am


    Oh, for a second I thought I figured out where my ex-wife went.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. identicon
    Sean, Dec 5th, 2007 @ 8:32am

    Re: Comment to Sean (18)

    I can't find that article, but here's another similar situation with a Dubliner in Spain;

    He transferred just over £1k to Spain and instead of getting pesetas, he got Euros (this was before the changeover) for the same numeric value... he stashed the cash, got arrested, and had his accounts frozen. I don't know how it ended so I suspect he came to a nice confidential out-of-court settlement.
    These may require registration;
    http://www.independent.ie/national-news/euro-windfall-dubliner--vows-to-keep-the-cash -327631.html
    http://www.independent.ie/national-news/its-mine-man-tells-bank-after-spending-cash-32 7150.html
    http://www.indep endent.ie/national-news/funds-freeze-cuts-no-ice--with-bank-blunder-man-322454.html

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 5th, 2007 @ 12:49pm

    Re: I hope that...

    Well, that's not his actual account number. That was his account number added into his balance. We don't know what his balance was originally, so nobody can try and take his number.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. identicon
    deviceone, Dec 5th, 2007 @ 4:18pm

    old tech

    I work in a datacenter, and I'm not suprised that the actual transaction processing machines are the oldest of the lot. Many of them are DEC VAX 6000s from ~1985. The reason, I'm told by one of the engineers, is that the older machines are much less likely to fuddle it up, because they arent nearly as complex as the blades and modern clusters.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. identicon
    squegie, Dec 6th, 2007 @ 1:53am

    computers do it, humans can't

    My sister deposited a check in an ATM -- one with a fancy check scanner. The check was for $30 and instead of $30.00 it had "xx/100" for the change. When the receipt printed, she had over $32 million in her account. This was on a weekend and she figured it would get corrected on Monday. When she checked again on Wednesday, the entire balance was available and the original $30 had been taken out of the check writer's account (my sister told them to let her know if $32 million was withdrawn). She finally told the bank and they corrected her balance (they said it definitely would have been flagged within a week when the bank does their balances).

    Anyways, the machines are given a high degree of trust against errors. At M&T Bank, the people are not. Different people have different levels of trust. Average bank tellers usually can't do more than $10k in a single transaction. So if you're cashing out your $15,000 check they have to call over the next person up to get it cashed. For many branches, $100k and up require branc manager approval. Even branch managers have limits imposed and that limit is a lot lower than "what's in the vault". So if you had $500k in the bank from selling off your mansion on the hill and wanted to cash out, some phone calls would have to be made.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. identicon
    John, Dec 6th, 2007 @ 4:22pm

    Database programming

    So what database programmer designed the banking software to allow a number that high into the "balance" field? Is there really any possible chance that any account can hold hundreds of trillions of dollars?

    Or were the programmers planning for super-duper inflation when we all walk around with trillions of dollars in our pockets so we can pay for $2 trillion cans of sodas and $1 trillion snacks?
    "That's one Gig Gulp and one Snickers bar. $3 trillion please."
    "Do you have change for a $50 trillion bill?"

    And it's good that we're glad that the bank said the guy wouldn't be responsible for paying back that amount. If the US can't pay back $9 trillion, how in the world will a single guy pay back $200 trillion?
    I know it's a cover-their-butt statement, but come on: does the bank really need to say this? Isn't it obvious?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34. identicon
    jane, Nov 27th, 2010 @ 7:43am

    wow, he should have just made out a check to the treasury dept to pay off the national debt! That would be one hell of a story to tell.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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