Reports are flying around the Internet about people using their VISA debit cards and seeing errors on their billing statements for charges of $23,148,855,308,184,500. That’s 23 QUADRILLION dollars. For perspective, that’s:
- 68,690,965 Airbus A380s
- 3,858,142 Large Hadron Colliders
- 13,616,973 Space Shuttles
- 154,325 Space Shuttle Programs
- 1,622 times the United States 2008 GDP
Of course, the additional $15 overdraft fee looks puny in comparison.
That’s a pretty serious software bug and one that will cost VISA a lot of time and credibility to fix. They’ve already indicated that the charges and the additional fees will be removed. But in the mean time, some VISA holders are stuck with very empty bank accounts (these were debit cards, so they were directly tied to the card holder’s bank account).
Back in October, I wrote about what to do when things go very wrong – when catastrophic bugs get through the testing net. It’s not clear if VISA did or did not have fail safes in place, but some of them could have been:
- A real limit on spending – nobody is putting 1,600 times the US GDP on their debit card. If they did, perhaps you ought to call them first.
- Automated checks on retailer vs. purchase amounts. One of the links above was for someone buying something at CVS – an American drug store. What’s the most that anyone would spend at a drug store? A few hundred dollars?
- Banks actually own the accounts for the customer, not VISA. Their systems should have rejected this as well. If a card holder really is buying a few million space shuttles, then I doubt they’re going to care about that punitive overdraft fee.
Were you hit by the $23 quadrillion error? What were you buying?