Friday, April 02, 2010

All the 8s!!!!!!!!

The Yahoo homepage was leading with this story just now, apparently from yesterday's Wall Street Journal, about a chap called Paul Fischer who went to the ATM last Friday night and was told that he had a balance of $88,888,888,888.88. Mr Fischer realised that this was a "bank error in your favour"* taken to a ridiculous degree, and apparently the morally upright fellow did not try to withdraw any of the money; though he did supposedly contact bank officials to ask if he might transfer the money into an interest-bearing account until they worked out where it should really be and donate any money so earned to charity - a nice idea but, of course, they said NO. Not all of us would have been so restrained. I'm not at all sure that I would.

Such short-lived mix-ups are, so the article tells us, relatively common in this age of electronic banking.

Hmmm, but check out the dateline. Accounting glitches of a few tens of thousands, perhaps even rarely a million or so dollars seem plausible; but I don't think anyone ever misplaces an amount in the tens of billions. In fact, I would have thought it would be impossible for a regular checking account to hold that much. And you can contact bank officials on a Friday night??? No, I suspect this story must have been a little piece of seasonal japery.

It occurs to me that such an improbable windfall would present a particular dilemma to a Chinese account-holder: the figure is so gosh-darned auspicious with all those lucky 8s that they'd be reluctant to spend any of it!

I am reminded also of a news story I believe I read back in the 1970s of a chap in America who saw a team of security guards carelessly drop a bag of money off the back of an armoured van as they were finishing picking up the day's takings from a big supermarket. Apparently that was a sum in the tens of thousands of dollars, but our previously down-on-his-luck protagonist didn't remember too much about how he spent it: 4 or 5 days later he found himself waking up on a sidewalk in Las Vegas with $100 left in his shoe and a big smile on his face. Easy come, easy go!

I recall a slightly similar story in Jeffrey Bernard's 'Low Life' column in The Spectator, one of the disreputable highlights of my regular reading in my childhood and teenage years. Jeff, an inveterate gambler and alcoholic, was in the habit of betting on both red and black at the roulette table so that he wouldn't lose his money too quickly (I think British tables only have a single zero, so the odds favour your being able to maintain long break-even runs, provided you remember to keep putting half your winnings back on the other colour) and could enjoy an endless supply of complimentary drinks and sandwiches from the casino. One night, however, he fell asleep at the table for half an hour, and awoke to find that there had been an improbably long sequence of the ball coming to rest in the black numbers. The slumbering Jeff had left his money on black, and now found himself looking at a stack of chips worth several thousand pounds. He felt he was too drunk to bother trying to cash them straight away, so took them home with him in a holdall - which he somehow lost along the way. Easy come, easy go.

I'd like to think that if such good fortune ever came my way, I'd make rather better use of it.

* I'm sure 'Bank error in your favour' used to be one of the Chance cards in Monopoly, but it doesn't seem to be listed in the Wikipedia entry - I wonder what's up with that?


JES said...

You're right about the card, but it was in the Community Chest deck -- the Wikipedia article, shockingly, just doesn't include it. (Sample here.)

(However, if you return to the W'pedia page and do a search on the word "error" you'll get a confirming -- and very odd - hit.)

Froog said...

When I hit Fiji on my backpacking world tour back in the '90s, I fell in with a couple of young American guys who were about to start grad school. One of them had got quite a generous scholarship (and/or loan approval), and had decided to apply for his first-ever credit card. This is a 22-year-old with no employment history to speak of, no money in the bank, and no likelihood of any significant income for another three years - but they approved him for a 'Gold Card' with, I think, a $20,000 limit on it. It had only arrived just before he set off on his backpacking holiday with his buddy, so he took it with him as a kind of good-luck charm, promising himself that he would never, ever use it unless in case of some extreme emergency. We were all wretchedly poor, and it became a sore temptation to abuse the 'magic' card - but I think he kept to his resolve, just about.

Froog said...

The only similarly inappropriate largesse I ever received from a bank was in the matter of my credit card limit when I was at law school.

I'd been elected president of the student debating club, and we were hoping to send two pairs of competitors to the World Universities' Championships that year. Unfortunately, the competition was being staged that year in the Southern Hemisphere, over Christmas: the cheapest flights were around £1,500 each, four or five times our normal budget for an event like this in Europe or North America. I succeeded - with great difficulty - in securing a grant of extra funds to cover this, but I then had to buy the air tickets at short notice... which I couldn't do with a cheque from the debating club's bank account. So, I asked my bank to increase my credit card limit to £6,000 (I think at the time it was only £1,500 or £2,000) for one month, promising to pay off the amount immediately in full; with letters of support from my Inn of Court and the debating club's bank, I managed to pull it off.

Of course, they forgot to lower the credit limit again afterwards...

And I didn't like to tell them. I thought it might come in handy one day.