French woman gets phone bill for 12 quadrillion euros

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Euro sign and water tapAP Photo/Michael Probst

Solenne San Jose, from Pessac near Bordeaux, got quite a shock when she opened a telephone bill for almost 12 quadrillion euros - that's almost 6,000 times the country's annual economic output.

So what went wrong, and is this the craziest billing mistake of recent years?


Bonkers bill

The astonishing bill was for 11,721,000,000,000,000 euros, which is roughly £9.4 quadrillion.
It was a final bill, calculated manually, after she closed her account. She said she "almost had a heart attack. There were so many zeroes I couldn't even work out how much it was".

To make matters worse, when she called the call centre, there was a misunderstanding of the scale of the sum, and the call centre worker told her that they couldn't make any changes to the bill. They helpfully offered to set up a repayment scheme.

It was only after a few more calls that the company said they had made a mistake in the bill printing process. To apologise for the shock, they also waived the actual outstanding sum of 117.21 euros.

Five of the craziest bills...

It's quite an extreme error, but billing mistakes are more common than you might think, and we're not talking a few quid here and there...

1. This has happened in the UK before. In 2003, Brian Law of Huddersfield received a final gas demand - after not getting round to paying his £59 bill. Unfortunately a glitch (whereby a reference number appeared as the amount outstanding) meant the demand was for £2.3 trillion.

2. And these errors haven't stopped. In September this year, pensioner Maggie Tuttle from Westcliff in Essex was mistakenly told on the phone by a call centre worker that she owed British Gas £32,000. We know they've increased their prices, but this is impressive.

3. It's not just in the UK and France where this is happening. In June this year, Kristin Harriger, a single mum from Texas, got a utility bill for $1.3 million dollars for one month. She took a photo of the bill and shared it with her friends, assuming they were playing a joke on her.

Imagine her surprise when she contacted the firm in question and they confirmed it was real. On further investigation, they realised their slight error: they had charged $1,000 per kilowatt-hour instead of $0.09 cents.

4. In some cases, the baffling bills don't go away. In spring last year Kirit Kothari of Cedar Grove New Jersey was billed an astonishing $10,457.90 for three months of his water supply. The company reckons he used around 1 million gallons of water. He asked for his meter to be checked, but the company said the meter was fine. He then went to a lawyer, but was still forced to pay up and pursue a refund through the courts.

5. And it's not just the amounts that go awry. Adam Ries, a German mathematician who died in 1559, received a demand to pay his TV licence. The letter arrived at his last known address - which is used as a centre for fans of the algebra genius. The head of the fan club contacted the licence people. They chose to ignore the fact he had died over 450 years ago, and sent a reminder.

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