Glitch hits Visa users with more than $23 quadrillion charge

By Jason Kessler CNN - July 15, 2009 -- Updated 1837 GMT (0237 HKT)

* Story Highlights
* $23,148,855,308,184,500 charge is about 2,007 times the size of the national debt
* Visa customer in New Hampshire, also hit with $15 overdraft fee, finds out online
* Statement said he'd spent the big sum at gas station where he buys cigarettes
* Card issuer strikes charge and fee, blames "temporary programming error"

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Credit card statement

The story:-

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A technical snafu left some Visa prepaid cardholders stunned and horrified Monday to see a $23,148,855,308,184,500 charge on their statements.

Josh Muszynski noticed the 17-digit charge while making a routine balance inquiry.

That's about 2,007 times the size of the national debt.

Josh Muszynski, 22, of Manchester, New Hampshire, was one Visa customer aghast to find the 17-digit charge on his bill. Adding insult to injury, he had also been hit with a $15 overdraft fee.

He noticed that his debt exceeded the world GDP while making a routine balance inquiry on his online Bank of America account. According to his statement, he had spent the profound sum in one pop at a nearby Mobil gas station -- his regular stop for Camel cigarettes.

"Very, very panicked," he jumped in his car and sped to the station.

Had they perhaps noticed any "outrageous" charges come across their books recently, he inquired of the cashier there. She checked the records. They had not. Video Watch the story of an astounded customer in Memphis, Tennessee »

Muszynski wondered aloud what he might possibly have asked to purchase for such an astronomical price. "Can I buy Europe on pump 4?"

He next called Bank of America, the issuer of his Visa prepaid debit card. The bank kept him on hold for two hours, during which time he contemplated the impossibly bleak financial future that might await him. He also felt a stab of fear that he had saddled all his unborn grandchildren -- and their grandchildren -- with a lifetime of debt. "Down the generational line, nobody would have any money."

Finally, a bank representative told him that the $23 quadrillion charge -- and the $15 overdraft fee -- would be stricken from his account.

Muszynski compared the giant debt reprieve to receiving "an amazing Monopoly card that says, 'Bank error in your favor.'

In a statement, Visa said the rogue charges affected "fewer than 13,000 prepaid transactions" and resulted from a "temporary programming error at Visa Debit Processing Services ... [which] caused some transactions to be inaccurately posted to a small number of Visa prepaid accounts."

The company assured customers that the problem has been fixed and that all falsely issued fees have been voided. "Erroneous postings have been removed ... this incident had no financial impact on Visa prepaid cardholders."

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The explanation:-

# Software Glitch Leads To $23,148,855,308,184,500 Visa Charges

Hmmm2000 writes "Recently several Visa card holders were, um, overcharged for certain purchases, to the tune of $23,148,855,308,184,500.00 on a single charge.

The company says it was due to a programming error, and that the problem has been corrected.

What is interesting is that the amount charged actually reveals the type of programming error that caused the problem. 23,148,855,308,184,500.00 * 100
(I'm guessing this is how the number is actually stored) is 2314885530818450000.

Convert 2314885530818450000 to hexadecimal, and you end up with 20 20 20 20 20 20 12 50.

Most C/C++ programmers see the error now ... hex 20 is a space.

So spaces were stuffed into a field where binary zero should have been.

Try it in Google. Searching for 0x2020202020201250 in decimal gives 0x2020202020201250 = 2.31488553 × 10^18. So does 0x2020202020202020. The accuracy in insufficient. Searching for 2314885530818450000 in hexadecimal does not give a result. Great though Google is the calculator cannot handle really large numbers. Use Powertoy calculator from Microsoft. It can handle these really large numbers. The explanation still does not explain the 12 50 on the end rather than the 20 20.

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