Unruly Teen Charges $23 Quadrillion At Drugstore

Kids these days! Hawkins writes, “My lectures about financial responsibility appear to have failed: yesterday [my teenaged daughter] charged $23,148,855,308,184,500.00 at the drug store.” You would think Visa would have caught the error and addressed it, if you were high. What Visa actually did was slap a $20 “negative balance” fee on it, of course. Update: Here’s what happened!

The embarrassingly-named VISA BUXX card is a debit card for teenagers: parents get reports, control, etc. My daughter has one.

My lectures about financial responsibility appear to have failed: yesterday she charged $23,148,855,308,184,500.00 at the drug store. That’s 2,000 times more than the national debt, which is a paltry 11 trillion.

The ever-vigilant folks at VISA added a $20 “negative balance fee,” and have suspended the card.

When I called, they said that there was a “system problem,” and that the “help desk was working on it.”

Note: Some readers have speculated that the number is the credit card number, but the OP says in the comments that it’s not:

Wow, I didn’t think of that before I submitted this story to Consumerist. Wouldn’t that be ironic cosmic retribution? Jerky consumer puts VISA’s honest programming mistake on display for the world to make snarky sarcastic comments about… but then it turns out that he’s just posted the debit card number!

Happily, this is not the case. Please carry on with the caustic commentary.

In that same thread, another commenter named mlcastle points out the series of digits fails the Luhn check, a simple checksum formula invented in the 1950s, and so cannot be a valid credit card number.

Update 2: Hawkins posted a follow up on page 3 of the comments:

I have an update, if anybody’s interested.

The issue was with VISA, not with CVS. Apparently lots of VISA debit card users were affected by it, at several different merchants. Each victim was charged exactly $23,148,855,308,184,500.00.

The folks at VISA have removed the 23-Grillion dollar charge, but not the $20 negative-balance fee. They promise to do so “as soon as this is all sorted out.”


Edit Your Comment

  1. Radi0logy says:

    See. This is all Obama has to do to fix the national debt. Look to the kids for the answers!

  2. Ezra Ekman says:

    On the plus side, that’s a heck of a credit limit. Where do I sign up? There’s a small country I’d like to buy.

  3. ponycyndi says:

    Holy cow. And I thought MY kids wanted alot of money!

  4. HiPwr says:

    In three years that will be worth about $43.

    • Optimus says:

      @HiPwr: You mean in 3 years, that will almost buy you an (insert $50 item of your choice here).

      Dyslexic Grammar Nazis Untie!

  5. ninabi says:

    She should have asked for the generic version of the prescription and saved a few million.

  6. Smashville says:

    Hmm…if I had a 23 quadrillion dollar limit…I would have no problem living on minimum payments.

  7. Bob Lu says:

    Quadrillion. Learned a new word today :p

  8. lpranal says:

    Maybe the bank mistakenly converted the charge into zimbabwe dollars?

    • ludwigk says:

      @lpranal: Dude their currency uses the same font as “RockBand”! Look at those “N”‘s working those jagged points.

      • littlemisslondon says:

        @ludwigk: ….wow. That is amazing.

      • snapdoodle says:


        Good eye!

        • cristiana says:

          It’s not the same font, it looks like Futura. The points came from someone not knowing how to use Adobe Illustrator. They come about when you put an outline stroke on an item with a really acute angle, so either you have to round the corners of the strokes, decrease the stroke width, or increase the offending angle.

          • lpranal says:

            @cristiana: thank you for pointing that out, I realized it wasn’t the actual “font” (which is probably just a stylized wordmark rather than actual typeface). Here, they just duplicated and expanded the path. Which is just as well, since they’ll probably be printing higher denominations in a month, or will finally wise up and switch to using Spice.

      • Liam Kinkaid says:

        @ludwigk: Awesome. Also, it’s hard to resist the urge to put your pinky to your mouth when you read “ONE HUNDRED TRILLION DOLLARS”.

  9. MostlyHarmless says:

    That is some potent contraceptive. You cant get pregnant if your dad strangles you on seeing the bill.

  10. Hate_Brian_Club_I'mNotOnlyThePresidentI'mAClient says:

    Pay up, deadbeat.

  11. NeverLetMeDown says:

    Well, this is a drugstore, and a teenage girl, so it’s only LIKELY that it’s a mistake.

    • sockrockinbeats says:

      @NeverLetMeDown: no way!

    • bigmil87 says:

      @NeverLetMeDown: O RLY?

    • Kd McEntire says:

      @NeverLetMeDown: When my husband saw that he said, “I bet that is her credit card number”. Looking at it… I think he might be right.

      • Myotheralt says:

        @Kd McEntire: But there is an extra 0.00 at the end.

        • shadowkahn says:


          If it was a $2 charge, it would make sense, except that I couldn’t find any CC company with an issuer number starting with 3184.

          On the other hand, we know the clerk entered the CC number in the right field, because otherwise it couldn’t have been charged.

          And unless the scanner was busted, the clerk didn’t have to enter anything anyway, prices or credit card number.

          I’m betting it’s a math error with the computer. Either it’s programmed wrong or they’re still using pentiums ;)

      • WorldHarmony says:

        @Kd McEntire: Doesn’t it have to start with a 4 if it is a 16-digit number (assuming the last number was “5”? If it’s her number, they’d better issue her a new card now!

  12. GyroMight says:

    Would have been cheaper to just buy the franchise.

    • Rectilinear Propagation says:

      @GyroMight: OT, but your icon avatar reminds me of this ad a local pharmacy has. The text says “A mail order pharmacist can’t see anything wrong with you”.

  13. Bahnburner says:

    So the stimulus IS working after all…

  14. novacthall says:

    This amount of money can only be quantified in magnitudes approaching “Dr. Evil.” Are you CERTAIN your daughter isn’t outfitting ill-tempered sea bass with frickin’ lasers?

  15. trunkwontopen says:

    She didn’t use a coupon?

  16. Marc Melton says:

    Honestly though, I want to know what she bought and how it POSSIBLY could have rung up for that much. I used to work at CVS and i’m pretty sure the computer would explode to try and do a sale that high.

    • K-Bo says:

      @Marc Melton: I’m guessing the problem in Visa’s computers, not CVS’s computers.

      • Hawkins says:

        @K-Bo: Mr Melton appears to be correct.

        The issue seems to be affecting multiple customers: when you call the bank to ask them about it, you get a recording mumbling about “if you’re calling about an incorrect balance, please be aware that we’re working on the issue…” and then they hang up.

        Which is helpful.

        • INTPLibrarian says:

          @Hawkins: That seems to be the case. A friend of mine in D.C. just found that exact amount charged to his account from a purchase at Safeway.

  17. LilBadKitty says:

    In her defense let me just say that make up and hair products are expensive! A girl has to look pretty, you know.

  18. genterara says:

    with that limit, should’ve asked for cashback.

  19. eirrom says:

    I had the same thing happen to me. I went to a local burrito place. My bill was for $7+ dollars but my checking account was debited for $1170! They fixed it but took some time.

  20. Trai_Dep says:

    I’d blame it on Palin quitting, but we all know she can’t even count one-1,000,000,000/th as high as that.
    No matter. I sense that this young lady has a rewarding career ahead of her as a Big Pharma rep.

    • Megalomania says:

      @Trai_Dep: ….how exceedingly relevant of you.

    • omgwtflolbbqbye says:

      @Trai_Dep: You’re arms must be tired after reaching that far.

    • Anonymous says:


      Anything to attack an educated successful female that can both do well in political office and simultaneously have a nuclear family and be a contestant in a beauty contest. Funny how it’s okay to attack a female when they don’t match your ideological point of view, but hellfire and brimstone if you call a racist like Sotomayor what she is. Your discrimination is transparent.

    • Winteridge2 says:

      @Trai_Dep: AIG or Goldman Sucks could use her right NOW!

  21. Donathius says:

    Soooo…CVS is now the most powerful entity on planet earth?

    • xredgambit says:

      @Donathius: If I was CVS I’d withdraw the cash or transfer the funds to a swiss bank account then close the current account. Then move. All employees, or else the higher up ones. Sure America would colapse, but they could just buy it for pennies on the dollar then Rename us The CVS states of CVS

  22. lehrdude says:

    I used my $quadrillion credit card bill as proof of income when I got my mortgage…The mortgage broker made copies to use as backup for her entire portfolio.

  23. Trai_Dep says:

    Well, that’s one city thankful for its 0.0825% sales tax!

  24. John Henschen says:

    If Walgreen’s had kept their Saver’s Club, she could have gotten an additional 10% back if she’d put it on a gift card.

  25. Brent Woodle says:

    I would be concerned that the number we are seeing is a credit card number that a cashier typed in. I suppose it is too late to take down (it has already been cached), but that is a possibility.

    • TalKeaton: Every Puzzle Has an Answer! says:

      @Brent Woodle: This is entirely possible. I almost did something similar last year, but the computers are SUPPOSED to flag it if it happens.

    • Jordan Leventhal says:

      @Brent Woodle: I don’t think so…the first number in the price is a “2”. No credit cards start with a “2”.

      And besides, the numbers don’t add up to the correct amount of digits for a credit card account number.

      • Gramin says:

        @Jordan Leventhal:

        You’re wrong on both points. Credit cards can start with a number 2 and can be as long as 19 digits. The number 2 at the beginning of a credit card means that it’s an airline issued card.

        • Major-General says:

          @Gramin: Which would mean its not a Wachovia issued Visa debit.

          Is there something that keeps people from thinking there answers to there logical conclusions?

      • SacraBos says:

        @Jordan Leventhal: $2.31 charge. The rest of the number is 16 digits starting with a 4, which would match a Visa card.

        • mlcastle says:

          @SacraBos: 4885530818450000 fails the Luhn check and so is not a valid credit card number.

          • katstermonster says:

            @mlcastle: +1 for geekiness! :)

          • NateN says:

            @mlcastle: You can make it pass Luhn, but I don’t think it means anything.

            Drop the leading 2. Assume it was an extra digit from a 2012 expiration date (or a CCV, or whatever).
            Break it into sets of 4. (3148 8553 0818 4500)
            Reverse the sets of 4. (4500 0818 8553 3148)

            Is it really a CC#? Probably not if everyone is getting the exact same amount charged. You’d expect others to get crazy credit card charges that matched their own CC# in the same sort of way. If it IS a credit card number I’m sure someone at Visa is smart enough to figure that one out well before now.

    • Hawkins says:

      @Brent Woodle:

      Wow, I didn’t think of that before I submitted this story to Consumerist. Wouldn’t that be ironic cosmic retribution? Jerky consumer puts VISA’s honest programming mistake on display for the world to make snarky sarcastic comments about… but then it turns out that he’s just posted the debit card number!

      Happily, this is not the case. Please carry on with the caustic commentary.

    • katstermonster says:

      @Brent Woodle: Replies to earlier comments indicate that friends of posters have received the exact same amount charged at other stores. Good eye, though…I’d be worried about that.

  26. Thanatos says:

    Supposedly, It’s a debit card but if it were a credit card, I would hate to see what the “minimum” monthly payment would have been on that balance… Yikes!

    • The Black Bird says:

      @Thanatos: Making the minimum payment, and not charging anything else, should allow her to pay it off in 20 Quadrillion years. Of course thats assuming her interest rate doesn’t drop.

      Wait, the interest rate never drops…never mind.

  27. Trencher93 says:

    They compute balances that high? Expecting runaway inflation!?!

    • Gramin says:


      Haha… it is a bit ironic that neither computer system questioned the number.

      • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

        @Gramin: yeah, i’d expect a call from visa to verify that it was me and i was intending to spend it. they’ve done it before when i was holiday shopping and went outside my usual patterns

  28. dangermike says:

    that’s most likely the transaction number being copied into the price field but you might want to double check that you didn’t just put your credit card number on the internet.

  29. twritersf says:

    Considering the new Shop Smart magazine’s article on dollar stores lists CVS as being overwhelmingly more expensive on nearly ever item purchased, this amount suddenly seems less unreasonable.

  30. PaperBuyer says:

    If the OP had used a credit card they could have done a charge back…

  31. Lucky225 says:


  32. Shay Tippens says:

    Is it coincidence that with a little quick math you can pull up a 16 digit number, something similar to say…a credit card number? I’d put the charges down as user input error at CVS.

  33. The Marionette says:

    That’s a bit odd, I just read something from shoutwire no longer than 15 minutes ago about a very similar problem.


    If you read that it has to do with those total pay cards (which i have one). Maybe someone’s been messing with the bank computers?

  34. coan_net says:

    Well if the first preg. test is positive, keep buying them over and over until you get one that will give you a negative.

  35. theblackdog says:

    Just how many different colors of nail polish did she buy at CVS?

  36. Hoss says:

    The good news is she gets $3 off her next $20 quadrillion purchase

  37. hicks says:

    Man, prescriptions are getting expensive.

  38. wezelboy says:

    The kid must have been paying for his modafinil prescription.

  39. TuxRug says:

    Note to teenage girl — they do have cheaper acne cream, and you don’t have to get the condoms with built-in datacenters.

  40. JGKojak says:

    I say we sell CVS our entire nuclear arsenal…

    First up… Wal Greens… bwahahahahahaha….

  41. takes_so_little says:

    I assume that, as a teen, she’ll be making the minimum payments. I would LOVE to finance a debt of that size by paying $40/mo for the rest of my life.

  42. spikespeigel says:

    Is she friends with Kyle, by any chance?

  43. DovS says:

    I’m guessing that the cashier tried to scan something that wasn’t correctly logged into the inventory and somehow wound up with the barcode number as the price.

  44. madanthony says:

    But think how many ExtraBucks she probably got back!

  45. PixelProphet says:

    Print it out, go to the store, return the products purchased, and ask for a cash refund.

  46. Smashville says:

    In all seriousness, does that somehow affect CVS’ bottomline? Do the register totals download anywhere?

  47. David Nicoll Barber says:

    Actually, I think the cashier mistakenly entered the CREDIT CARD#..i.e….2314 8855 3081 8450…Your welcome.

  48. Anonymous says:

    This is the biggest mess. In my case Subway charged me. I checked my account balance, after Michaels declined the card and I had a negative balance of $ 184.388.44-. I contacted ADP TOTAL PAY, only to find out they have no clue to what has happened. I can’t access the ATM or process any transactions. I don’t carry cash, so I’m FUBAR TOTALLY.

  49. yevarechecha says:

    They charge a $20 negative balance fee? Stupid me, I figured that if you did not have enough loaded on the card it would be declined. Or if you attempted to charge more than the GDP of several industrialized nations. How silly of me.

  50. H3ion says:

    Does the Visa Buxx card offer airline miles? This kid is going to the moon.

  51. Skaperen says:

    How the hell does one get to charge such an amount? I think it’s scary that the system can even handle such a number. If it had lots of zeros, maybe that might make more sense. This has a bunch of digits, so it had to come from somewhere. Who rang that up on the register?

  52. Matt Galisa III says:

    That’s a lot of Plan B…

  53. Hawkins says:

    I have an update, if anybody’s interested.

    The issue was with VISA, not with CVS. Apparently lots of VISA debit card users were affected by it, at several different merchants. Each victim was charged exactly $23,148,855,308,184,500.00.

    The folks at VISA have removed the 23-Grillion dollar charge, but not the $20 negative-balance fee. They promise to do so “as soon as this is all sorted out.”

    • Allison Granados says:

      @Hawkins: that doesn’t make any sense. they acknowledge it was their problem, but they’re still hanging on to your money. for you, this is only your daughter’s card, but i can see a lot of people running in to serious problems with this.

  54. qcgallus says:

    Just for grins I checked to see how long it would take me to pay that off, assuming I pay every cent I make and I work a 2000 hour work year every year until I do and it would take me…7.82×10^11 years, or 782,055,922,300 years, which is what, 70 times the age of the known observable Universe?

  55. scoosdad says:

    Do you get frequent flier miles on that card? “TO THE MOON!!!”

  56. tvh2k says:

    From the discussion over at boingboing ([www.boingboing.net]), guesses at what might have happened are:

    1. It’s actually a credit card number.

    a. A $2.31 charge followed by a credit card number (4885… would be VISA). Except that number fails the Luhn test, *so I’ll rule this option out*.

    b. A truncated leading “4” followed by a credit card number, padded by four trailing 0’s. That passes the Luhn test, and falls within the VISA range of number per ISO/IEC 7812. Still, *unlikely* since another commenter confirmed that her child had the same charge (unless she only glanced at the first few digits before ‘confirming’). UPDATE: actually another user had the same charge and provided a screenshot, except the hundreds digit was a 6 (ending in 600 vice 500).

    2. Some sort of encoding error–more likely. It was pointed out that, written in hex, the charge is 0x2020202020201250. That’s 8 bytes (well, 62 bits…pad the front with two 0s). Most likely a data typing error in an older or loosely typed language.

    0x20 is ASCII for space. Perhaps the charge amount (in hex form) was accidentally parsed as a string and space padded to 16 bytes? Lot’s of older languages space-pad their strings. Only problem is the other user ([boardsix.com]) who was charged 0x2020202020203960 when he bought a hamburger. A 0x3960 hamburger is $146.88…hmm.

  57. Dan Biermann says:

    I would call up visa and request a check for my 2% cash back reward! I’m going shopping tonight!!

  58. Bob Elwell says:

    Sounds like it’s their mistake and they’re doing something about it. Something like this has more of a place on TheDailyWTF.com than The Consumerist.

  59. evilhapposai says:

    Why would a teenage girl have a credit card in the first place. Most adults cannot handle a line of credit responsibly. Now they would give one to a teen?

    Visa mistake or not I would never trust a teen with a card in the first place. I barely tolerate teen cell phones! (Have seen many $500+ bills from a teen downloading or texting on their parents dollar when I worked for a cell phone call center.)

    • ejg930 says:


      It’s a debit card. Not a credit card. Big difference there.

      If you actually read the article, you would have seen:
      “The embarrassingly-named VISA BUXX card is a debit card for teenagers: parents get reports, control, etc. My daughter has one.”

  60. Hawk07 says:

    I take it the reader lets his daughter watch South Park and decided to pull a Kyle and bailout the entire city on his credit card… except your daughter chose the world and a few galaxies.

  61. Sara Cassidy says:

    Okay that was clearly a mistake on that card one kid couldn’t buy THAT much stuff from a drug store, a drug store doesn’t even have that much stuff, credit cards have limits. and that exceeds it.

  62. nacoran says:

    This just proves we need to reign in drug prices at the pharmacy.

  63. baristabrawl says:

    Holy shit. I don’t even know where to begin with this one except that I’d probably report my card as lost or stolen and never renew the card. EVER.

  64. jwissick says:

    Jesus.. This should have tripped an error at the bank for sure. Bank is prolly wondering how to transfer that kind of money to CVS.. lol

  65. Anonymous says:

    FYI if you the remove the extra zeros it seems to pass the luhn check.

    Start at the left, take 16 digits and put that into a checker and it seems to work (well it worked at http://planzero.org/code/bits/examples/luhn_check.php anyway)

    So it could indeed be the credit card number, but its been fudged with extra zeros for some reason.

  66. rick_in_texas says:


    This seems like a programming issue. I bet some code (merchant) plus the amount had a “test value” put in that someone forgot and when it happened this time the amount was replaced with this ridiculous figure.

    I do the same thing when testing reports. I take the longest name in the system and use it for checking the spacing on the report. If I ever forget my hardcode and move it into production then the name would show on all reports (did happen once 10 years ago).

    I bet they found the code error.

  67. Red_Eye says:

    The $20 is as big an issue as the original fraudulent charge. This is one thing they didn’t address adequately in the upcoming credit card reforms. If they can apply a charge to my card in seconds refunds should happen just as quickly. PERIOD. No 4-6 days, weeks etc bs.

  68. Anonymous says:

    I am a single mother form Virginia Beach VA. Monday night I checked my Bank of America account and it was a NEGATIVE -$69,446,565,924,553,600. 3 charges from The DolllarTtree for the amount of -23,148,855,308,184,500 created this.I spent $12 at that store!! Bank of America has not fixed my account yet and has suspened it! All before my son’s 16th birthday. They have not helped me in anyway!!

  69. Anonymous says:

    It looks like Visa is being hacked.

    Since the numbers are the same, appearing in different locations, it’s coming from inside the system.

    Convert it to hexadecimal, 523DC2E199EBB4, it looks like Intel assembly code with a handy jump at the end to something else:
    push dx
    cmp ax,E1C2
    jmp 00BB

    Bet Visa people are going to be working late for a while to figure this one out…

  70. Debbie Rolando says:

    My son’s charge was with a Wachovia Visa Buxx card and came through as a charge at Subway! That’s way too may $5 foot long subs!!

  71. Kero says:

    The actual charger was $12.00. If you convert 2314885530818450000 to hexidecimal it’s 2020202020201200, conveniently the hexidecimal value of an ASCII Space (hitting the space bar) is 20, so those are just 6 leading spaces before the decimal value (and converted to hex).

  72. Winteridge2 says:

    I am forwarding this to my senator right now. 23 bada-quada-kazillion dollars just might be enough to balance the national budget.