back to article Dear customer: you owe us $211 trillion

Most of us know what it's like to receive one of those "your account is £X overdrawn and unless we get the cash by noon tomorrow we're going to sell your kids for scientific experiments and break your mother's arms and legs" letters, so spare a thought for Joe Martins of Cobb County, Georgia, who was rather surprised to learn …


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  1. Norman Wanzer

    Right Idea, Wrong Customer

    I suspect we will see something very similar to this to be issued to the US Gov by China in the very near future. Probably right after they dump all of their 'Dollars' for Euros.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    And finally Cyril...

    Anyone else remember the 70s TV show "That's Life" with Esther Rantzen?

    They used to have a story like this most weeks, about how the Gas Board (or some other large bureaucracy) had charged some hapless pensioner 30 squillion pounds for the last quarter.

    There would usually be some sort of comical interchange where the presenters read out bits of the various correspondence in funny voices and then they would end the piece by blaming "computerisation".

    I expect most of their audience has now moved on to "Last Of The Summer Wine" or similar unfunny pensioner-oriented guff.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Evil Graham

    Ahh yes. thanks so much for reminding me.

    Who would have guessed the reg would be so cutting edge as to copy a poor 30 year old TV programme.

    Coming soon : the reg investigates odd shaped vegetables.

  4. Slaine

    ... and all because

    ... the banks love Microsoft Office (excel spreadsheet anyone?)

  5. Andrew Carpenter
    Thumb Down

    Digit(al) Dilemma

    What's the betting that 211010028257303 is his account number?

  6. Tawakalna

    @Evil Graham & Anon..

    ..don't foget Trimphone impersonators and dogs that say "rossages" :)

    wot, no Esther Rancid icon?

  7. Anonymous Coward

    Bad credit?

    Doubt this would have hurt his credit rating if it had been reported. The kind of person who can run up a billion or more in defaulted debt is the sort of person who can get a loan under a million without a problem (probably just left his wallet in the other jet). Customer's too big for the little bureaucrat to deny, and loan's too small for the big bureaucrat to look at. It's the guy who can't pay back ten thousand who gets it in the neck.

  8. bluesxman

    @ Andrew Carpenter

    I'm doubtful -- the number is a little large, to say the least. It seems a tad unlikely that the bank would have anticipated ever having 211 trillion accounts -- nearly 32,000 accounts per member of the human race.

  9. Anonymous Coward

    @Evil Graham; please dont remind me

    Anonymous this time, for reasons that will become apparent.

    I used to have to watch that show because my mother was a Cyril Fletcher fan. Remember the dog that was used as a primitive speech synthesiser and, with its owner manipulating its throat, could say "sausages"? Or the vegetables that resembled external genitalia? Straight out of a fairground feak show, some of it.

    To be fair, they did air some real issues, and Childline, founded by Esther, is genuinely useful.

    Back in the real world, due to the international credit squeeze, the banks are putting on the pressure about debt, usually correctly assessed. A lot of people are in trouble over that, myself included.


  10. Stratman

    It's always the little chap

    Bank manager to customer.

    "If I lend you fifty thousand and you default, you lose your house. If I lend you fifty million and you default, I lose my house".

  11. Anonymous Coward

    User Error?


    Say it isn't so!

    Do users make errors?

    Would users make errors with HMRC data? Whoops, sorry, bad example?

  12. Glynn Beech

    Word Processing error??

    Word Processing Error?? how on earth do you accidentally type something like 211,010,028,257,303 into a word processor and not notice?

    overworked data entry clerk fallen asleep on numeric keypad perhaps?

  13. Anonymous Coward

    Not really slagging off That's Life

    I suppose it was representative of its time and all that. It certainly got huge viewing figures, but I think there were only 3 TV channels then so anything half decent stood a good chance. I was in school at the time and the "sausages" (or "rorrages") catchphrase definitely caught on.

    At least it was original, which is more than you can say for its pathetic modern whining bastard stepchild "BBC Watchdog".

    More to the point, as some other posters mentioned, it's a bit of a slow day on El Reg if this is news.

  14. Paul

    Card number?

    Mayhaps? It is one digit short, but it could be, or possibly Bank account number and sort code (If they work the same in the US as the UK)?

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    RE: Word Processing Error

    >> Word Processing Error?? how on earth do you accidentally type something like 211,010,028,257,303 into a word processor and not notice?

    Mail merge the wrong field? I am quite surprised the bank creates the letters using a word processor. Must be quite small local bank.

    My guess is perhaps the original outstanding amount was £100, before the value of the US dollar fell through the floor ;) Or perhaps they bounced a cheque for some insignificant value and charged HSBC-esque penalties and charges.

  16. Anonymous Coward


    It's entirely possible - my bank account number has 20 digits!

    bank code xxxx

    branch code xxxx

    checksum xx

    account xxxxxxxxxx



  17. Kim Hancock

    What a pity

    It was a mistaken debit and not a credit. But then it always is, innit?

  18. Eugene Goodrich

    Re: What a pity

    If it had been a mistaken credit and not a debit, then the bank would be asking him to hand it back. With interest.

  19. mark

    some background

    Wachoiva has a 9 digit bank code and a 13 digit account code, (use to be 9 digit accounts but a merge in 2002 made them change it up)

  20. Fred


    Come on guys...

    cant we say somethingmore interesting? not only a slow day for the reg!

  21. jfunk

    Got a similar bill from the electric company one time

    They had changed my meter out (the new one starting at "0"), but forgot to reset the counter on my account to 0, so it had calculated that I used enough juice to flip the counter and I had a bill for $25,000 or something crazy like that.

    "I believe there is a problem with my account..."

    "What is your account number, sir?"


    ".....oh....I see....It looks like you're our best customer, so what's the problem?"

    (yes, she was joking)

  22. Eileen Bach

    Back on subject please

    I have tried to enter this figure on my 1972 Sinclaire Executive but can't. Anyway such sums were'nt possible to even owe the bank back then and the cashier or manager would have realised the mistake when typing the nasty letter.

  23. heystoopid


    What a bunch wankers , which tends to consolidate one's view that many banks that start with the letter "w" are so appropriately named they neatly fit bill perfectly as organizations riddled with adherents of the "peter principle" from the top to the bottom rung !

    But then again has anyone else noticed the bank in question for this idiocracy is in the top ten on the current FDIC list ?

  24. Anonymous Coward

    Leccy Board Fcuk-up

    I am still awaiting an amended Electricity bill after my last one claimed I had used £5,500 of juice in the last quarter.

    My normal bill is about £160 but I suppose there is a chance that when they dug the road up during the summer, they connected the entire county to my meter.

    The nearest I have come to a bank error in my favour was changing some foreign currency after a holiday; I had guestimated it was about £35, so could not hide my look of surprise when I was told it was £1500.

    DRAT!! the teller took one look at my face and re-checked - £36 and a few pence


  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ bluesxman

    "I'm doubtful -- the number is a little large, to say the least. It seems a tad unlikely that the bank would have anticipated ever having 211 trillion accounts -- nearly 32,000 accounts per member of the human race."

    You foolishly assume that account numbers are strictly ordinal in assignment. 1, then 2, then 3, etc, whereas almost all banks use a classification type account number, that could include all kinds of information, such as the branch in which the account was opened, the employee that opened the account, the date the account was opened, the type of account (savings, checking, etc) the actual account number, some kind of checksum, etc, etc, etc.

    My own account number has 12 digits to it, and I doubt my bank has hundreds of billions of accounts.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Spin this around

    debt = credit....


    $211,010,028,257,303 credit.

    Means a credit rating good for well over a few trillion$ If you could blag somebody that a bank had the confidence to invest that much capital in you as an individual, that's a heck of a lot of persuasive power!

    Somebody probably transcribed the US housing losses by mistake and assigned them to this poor guy.

  27. Anonymous Coward

    419 anyone ?

    Maybe it's a new twist on an old scheme ? A tad more direct tho, going to your bank instead of you... "Dear Bank Of Presidential You, I'd you pleased send us in the name of $211,010,028,257,303, sum be guarantee by of the Lord Joe Martins of Cobb County, Republic of the Great Land Of Somewhere In Georgia in our trustee name etc etc etc"

  28. Anonymous Coward

    Obvious really

    The Bank had been ordered to cover the losses of the credit crunch by transfering the costs to the customers.

    Unfortunately, original marching orders were short of single s in word customers and they ended up billing it all from single customer.

    So it was a word prosessor error after all.

  29. jim parker


    Is this pronounced 'watch over ya' ?

  30. teacake

    Hey ho

    Another article, another comment from "heystoopid" ascribing this error to the Peter Principle...

  31. This post has been deleted by its author

  32. Chris Seiter

    @ jfunk: Similar experience

    My power company put in a new meter a few months ago at my house. They sent me a bill for $2600. I've had the house for almost two years and only paid around $1700 for that whole time. Their response was since they had been "low-balling" my usage, they were going back and adjusting the bills that I had already paid and closed on. I asked them about the amount I had already paid; they said it was already applied. Stupid utility monopolies.

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