back to article Visa dings teen for $23-quadrillion restaurant charge

Visa says a technical glitch is responsible for a rash of notices warning customers their accounts are overdrawn to the tune of $23 quadrillion. An anonymous Reg reader tipped us to one emailed statement, which claimed the account of the tipster's son was on hold because of a charge made to an Applebee's restaurant for $23,148 …

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  1. mittfh
    Terminator

    BOFH at work?

    Technical glitch? Yeah, right - more likely the student's one of Simon's lusers...

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Alert

    minimum payment

    ...but if you can't afford the 23 quadrillion, you may make the minimum payment of 46 trillion dollars and pay the rest off later...

  3. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    Visa deserves glitchslapping?

    Express the charge amount in cents (2,314,885,530,818,450,000), convert to hexadecimal, and you get 2020202020201250. The ASCII code for the space character is hexadecimal 20. It looks to me like somebody blank-filled a field, plopped the actual charged amount into the end (hex 1250, decimal 4688, likely amount $46.88), and then interpreted the entire field as a hex number. If so, this is the kind of bug that would have been caught in even the most cursory testing, in which case the "technical glitch" Visa talks about was not really in the software--bugs happen--but in their own shoddy procedures that allowed untested software to go live.

    I can scarcely wait for similarly diligent organizations to take charge of my medical records ...

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Someone needs to go on a diet

    That's a bit excess eating I would suggest.

  5. Shippers
    Boffin

    uint32_t

    Perhaps some bit pattern being added their 32-bit integer maths?

    0x2020202020202020 - 2314885530818450000 = 3536

    $35.36 seems a bit nearer the mark.

  6. Neal 5

    Indeed

    " It's already providing a valuable lesson in the importance of reading statements carefully."

    And don't forget the 26.6%APR

    Greedy fat b++++r eats all the pies, and then complains.

    If you don't want to pay, then eat half the meal and complain, I think this easily learnt lesson was covered by Mr Bean and the Steak Tartar.

    Visa, of course would not make a mistake, this is one of those insigned service charges applied at one of Gordon Ramsay's establishments.

  7. Christoph

    Lucky for himk it was so much

    If the charge had been 23 dollars too much, would they have admitted it? Or would they have assumed that the customer was lying and trying to cheat them?

    If their systems are faulty then their systems are faulty, whatever the amount. If these transactions got through without being automatically blocked, any other amount could get through.

  8. Steven Hunter
    Thumb Up

    Mostly Harmless

    Reminds me of the bar scene in "Mostly Harmless".

    Arthur Dent: "What would that buy in pounds sterling?"

    Ford Prefect: "Switzerland..."

  9. NogginTheNog
    Happy

    Respect due

    I'm impressed at their systems' coders who wrote a system capable of coping with figures like that, and not falling over! I mean I've heard of inflation-proofing, but really...

    Then again, a big thumbs down for the error checking monkeys who didn't bother to put any sanity checking on things like the maximum allowable size of the amount variables...!

  10. jake Silver badge

    Just saw this on TV

    They interviewed the idiot ... Rather than immediately thinking "computer glitch", he figured (and this is a rough quote) "I thought someone had stolen my card and bought Europe". He was dead serious. Scary that there are people that stupid out there.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Grenade

    Dinner date

    For that much of a price tag on a dinner date, he better have gotten more than a kiss on the cheek.

    Grenade; more for the </alt> tag than anything.

  12. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    Ah yes, the old "reading ASCII data as a number" screwup. I made a reasonable living in the early 1980s fixing this error, introduced by eager Sperry UNIS/MIP customers who had customised their bill of materials explosion program and now needed it putting back the way it was so they could see how to make stuff and earn revenue again.

    *Sigh*. Nothing new under the sun.

    The only surprise here is that it didn't show up as a massive credit, since the odds are good the sign bit will be set. Well done all those who spotted the why of it.

  13. Steen Hive
    Joke

    Definitely

    Java at work. The machine stays up to send you bills in the quadrillions. (Probably needed to pay for their CPU time).

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    Just prepaid?

    The BBC story talked about bank of america, not Visa pre-paid cards

  15. lukewarmdog
    Coat

    Quick..

    To the nearest Applebees and actually run up a quadrillion dollar bill.

    Or how about printing a couple of quadrillion dollar notes and asking them for change.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There's another item very similar...

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/8152278.stm

    Interesting... he only bought cigarettes.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    @Visa deserves glitchslapping?

    >" Express the charge amount in cents (2,314,885,530,818,450,000), convert to hexadecimal, and you get 2020202020201250. The ASCII code for the space character is hexadecimal 20. It looks to me like somebody blank-filled a field, plopped the actual charged amount into the end (hex 1250, decimal 4688, likely amount $46.88), and then interpreted the entire field as a hex number. "

    I reckon you're nearly right, but I reckon what actually happened is that the field was entirely blank (0x2020202020202020) and the amount has been rounded down from 2,314,885,530,818,453,536 cents to the nearest 100-dollars ($23,148,855,308,184,500.00) in the course of reporting, thereby mangling a few of the last (hex) sig figs when you convert it back.

  18. Marc 1

    I think its about time...

    ...The Reg gave us a Dr. Evil icon?

  19. vincent himpe
    Coat

    23 quadrillion . 7 billion people

    i'd say they had breakfast , lunch and dinner , multiple centuries in a row , while ordering everything on the menu for every meal.... and still hads some small change left...

  20. MYOFB
    Happy

    Fnar-fnar-fnar!!

    1. Haircut by a blind stylist . . . . £15

    2. Dinner with a minger of a blind date . . . £10 (including tip, charity box donation and his/her bus fare back to ugly land)

    There are some things money can't buy . . . Fucked up billing?

    We'll leave that to VISA!!

    For everything else, you can rely on MasterCard.

    PRICELESS!!!!!!

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Joke

    New Owners?

    Did the **AA get an ownership stake in Visa?

  22. Leo Maxwell
    Joke

    Actually, that's a bill from Milliways

    (The restaurant at the end of the universe for the uninitiated), it had to catch up with him at some point in history. :)

  23. This post has been deleted by its author

  24. The Bug

    Airmiles

    Hope he still gets the airmiles for the purchase - or, better still, 1% cashback!

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Pint

    Awesome number crunching

    @Anonymous Coward Posted Wednesday 15th July 2009 18:17 GMT

    @Shippers

    Impressive number crunching. No really. I'm impressed to the almost to the point of being overawed.

    But if you ever want to get laid on a regular basis, or properly lament the fact that you are but it isn't regular enough, please suppress the urge to hex/decode/interpret/convert when you to catch sight of a large number like 23 quadrillion.

    In fact I say drop the keyboard this instant, ignore the Star Trek DVDs you had planned for the night, head to the nearest bar, get wasted, hit on the nearest available target, get rejected and then proceed to drink away your sorrows. It's the only way out.......

    What you say, this is El Reg and you will get flamed to hell and back for this sort of a post? Oh well...............

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Happy

    A big number but

    not as big as my credit limit...

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Joke

    Converting to hex ?

    All this converting to hex stuff seems a bit complicated. Maybe Visa have just changed their billing system to Zimbabwe dollars !

  28. Steve Browne

    Code error

    This looks like a COBOL problem of clearing a structure by assigning spaces to the 01 level name. No type checking is performed (!) and spaces are assigned to the entire structure as though it were a string.

    Don't these people realise that all code should be passed by the junior programmer, as he or she will spot errors like this, before making it live. Proper testing would help too. Then again, it is a bank, using other people's money, so who would give a shit?

  29. Moss Icely Spaceport
    Thumb Up

    yeah but...

    ...what about the tip he gave the waiter!

  30. frank ly

    @Leo Maxwell re.Actually, that's a bill from Milliways

    "(The restaurant at the end of the universe for the uninitiated), it had to catch up with him at some point in history. "

    If it's caught up with him, it must be a bill from the Big Bang Burger Chef.

  31. Matthew 4
    Thumb Up

    haha

    Well it's something to frame on your wall I guess!

    Good on visa for making a system that could even cope with Zimbabwean style inflation!

  32. Mr Bear
    Coat

    It's not Victor Kiam Junior is it?

    "I liked the food so much, I bought the company, and the state of New York too."

    Mines the one with the Remington razor and the Applebee's, diamond encrusted, doggy bag.

  33. SuperTim

    Has anyone checked.....

    If he left the "gratuity" field blank? cos if i was a waiter, i would add 24 quadrillion to some snot-nosed punks bill!

  34. Steve 149

    Anyone for seconds?

    Did that include a tip?

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Headmaster

    exaggeration

    don't the americans like to overstate things! Its 23 thousand billion. They have to blow everything out of proportion, Geez.

  36. Duncan Hothersall
    Joke

    Re: Dinner date

    Honestly, the quality of technical knowledge here is appalling. alt is an attribute, not a tag.

  37. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    impressive

    Reminds me of the time the gas board had been giving us massively over-estimate gas readings for a few years, adn when we told them the actual - lower - reading, they assumed we'd been round the clock on the meter, and sent us an £18000 gas bill. For one month. Admittedly not in the same state as quadrilions, but still...

    And also kudos to those who did the hex maths, it was an impressive piece of calculation. I bow to you (since no woman probably will)

    Mine's the one with the meth cooking lab in the pocket (only way I can think of using that much domestic gas...)

  38. Nameless Faceless Computer User
    Black Helicopters

    Computers are evil

    You know, this never would have happened if the software was written in COBOL.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Glass half empty

    "The technical glitch, which impacted more than 12,000 Visa prepaid transactions"

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Coat

    @Awesome number crunching

    Well, if you think that is "Awesome number crunching " - a very simple hex/text conversion, then remind me not to employ you as a softie.

    Or are all new engineers that lacking nowadays?

    I'll be the one with the BBC micro and 6502 assembler manual in the pocket then.

  41. /dev/me
    Headmaster

    title="title"

    >>Honestly, the quality of technical knowledge here is appalling. alt is an attribute, not a tag.

    And the alt attribute is meant for displaying an alternative for images in text based browsers. Yes. The title attribute is meant for all your mouse-over tooltip extravaganza.

    As seen here:

    <img src="/Design/graphics/icons/comment/headmaster_32.png" width=32 height=32 alt=Headmaster title="Pedantic grammar nazi alert">

    ___

    (btw, isn't "Warning: Troll alert" redundant? I'm proposing: "Warning: Troll" or "Troll alert" or even better "Troll alert code double red")

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Coat

    Simple explanation

    He went into the restaurant singing the old jingle "I'd like to buy the world a Coke...", and the server took him literally.

    Veal. Waitress. You know the drill.

  43. Sooty

    @SuperTim

    <Quote>If he left the "gratuity" field blank? cos if i was a waiter, i would add 24 quadrillion to some snot-nosed punks bill!</Quote>

    You never know, he may have been from the UK and believe that you actually have to earn a tip by providing excellent service, rather than automatically be entitled to one no matter what!

    I have to agee with others though, it's a good job it was so high it was silly, as if it was a coupel of hundred you'd never get them to admit it was an error.

  44. djberriman
    Alert

    detect the issue?

    Surely their letter writing system should have baulked at these figures (if not some other internal checks) and alerted them so they didn't send letters for such stupid amounts? I guess they don't have any sensible checks on their system so that they know about issues before pissing off 12,000 odd customers and causing 12,000 odd phone calls to their call centre.

    I really hate it when you call a call centre to be told oh its an automated letter, well if its automated get it to automatically detect stupidity. Its not very hard. create an exception report which can be processed by someone with common sense.

    Bugs happen but with reasonable controls you should find them before the customer does!

  45. Piers
    Flame

    FFS!!!!!one!

    >a temporary programming error at Visa Debit Processing Services<

    Yeah and WE ALL TRUST THESE PEOPLE....

    Mines the one with too many bits of untrustworthy plastic in the pockets...

  46. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    Dinner Date Commentard Is Me

    That's why I leave web site stuff to the wife.

  47. I didn't do IT.
    Coat

    Outrageous amount

    The problem is, this is *not* an outrageous amount to banks and credit companies anymore; just that the vast majority of "normal" people never see these.

    I worked for a "small to mid-size" business where one executive kept a 3.5mil *balance* on his company credit card. The limit was over 20mil. This was, obstensibly, because he purchased capital equipment for the company on-the-spot at autctions, etc, and not because he was a sone of one of the owners. It was paid off each month...

    Contracting with larger companies, I have seen limits that rival these.

    Icon - looking for the receipts...

  48. Miami Mike
    FAIL

    Autodebit . . .

    Yeah, and tell me again why I want to have autodebit on my bank accounts? And remind me about the clause in the bank's terms of service which says if I am overdrawn on one account they can take it out of ANY of my other accounts to cover it? (or all of them, if needed.)

    I've had this crap happen to me twice. Once on an electric bill that was "only" six times as high as normal, and once on a mortgage - the payment was a whopping $300 a month (old slum property) and Washington Mutual (yes, name and shame!!!!!) sent me a payment notice for $4,300,000 for this month's payment.

    I called them and asked them if they would have taken the money had it been in my account, and their answer was "Yes, but we'd have given it back sooner or later."

    No autodebits for me thank you very ****ing much - I prefer to write low tech paper checks and mail them. It is my money and I will control it. I'm not in the least computerphobic, but I'm going to do my best to keep them out of my money. (Note to self - buy a thicker mattress so I don't feel the lumps.)

  49. Casper Orillian

    @Leo Maxwell

    Actually it is from mostly harmless, after arthur gets rescued by ford, and they ride the perfectly normal beast out of the village and to the land of the king (I.E elvis(on an alien world, go figure)) and ford sees a nice ship outside the bar of the king he wants to buy, so he starts a tab at the bar, goes to the lead singer who owns the ship, and gives him a large amount of cash from his hitchikers card, he then names the figure to arthur, who asks what it could buy, ford runs a few calculations and says it would buy switzerland.

    </rant>

    the bit in milliways the bar bill was never mentiond only that he signed it under "hotblack" and then he gets a radio message later involving a bar bill and his exicutioner

    </rant, really i mean it this time>

  50. Stevie Silver badge

    @ Steve Browne, Cobolist

    Oh Steve, that's a feature of the language that caused no problems whatsoever unless some dimwit tried to print a formatted version of the result BY SUBFIELD (or tried to do arithmetic on the result of course).

    I thought all you young "C" language family proponents were firmly on the side of knowing what you are doing before typing code. What we have here, as we did in the days when people understood how to write in Cobol, is good old fashioned bad programming by idiots.

  51. Jamie Kitson
    Thumb Up

    Debugged

    http://stackoverflow.com/questions/1133581/is-23-148-855-308-184-500-a-magic-number-or-sheer-chance

  52. asdf
    Thumb Down

    why visas system can handle huge #s

    >Good on visa for making a system that could even cope with Zimbabwean style inflation!

    The sad thing is they also have an strong future business case to be handle said inflation and it is with US dollars. The way both our parties borrow and spend $$$ that doesn't exist and may never exist, where else can the value of the dollar go? My god its a giant house of cards that so going to f__k over all of western civilization at some point (US debt now over 11 trillion dollars). Why is it tax is a dirty word and gets everyone up in arms but borrow is acceptable? At least with taxes it only affects money you earn after the tax goes in effect instead of all the cash you have ever saved like borrowing does. Spending other peoples money even if it is your own grandkids gives people such stiffys and is worth killing and dying over. Very sad really.

  53. asdf
    Stop

    order of magnitude lesson

    >The problem is, this is *not* an outrageous amount to banks and credit companies anymore;

    >I worked for a "small to mid-size" business where one executive kept a 3.5mil *balance* on his company credit card. The limit was over 20mil.

    Um somebody needs to learn orders of magnitude. 20mil or even 50 trillion (Worlds GDP) is still a tiny sliver of 23 quad. The only field that would ever deal with regularly with numbers this big is astronomy (even visible universe is mind numbingly huge) and even then they use parsecs to simply distances.

  54. Alex Osmond
    Joke

    So that's where....

    ....Fred Goodwin went.

  55. Lionel Baden

    funnily enough

    i have actually just reverted back to cash when i can due to a massive lack of trust in banks on a whole

  56. Quirkafleeg
    Coat

    Re: exaggeration

    I posted much the same earlier, but the comment is missing presumed moderated.

    Anyway, given milliard == thousand million, perhaps that should be 23 billiard Or perhaps this is a load of…?

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