Thursday, April 13, 2006

Umm, Yeah, I Think Somebody Made a Mistake Here

Blogging has been light this week due to general busy-ness, so I'll be using part of the upcoming three-day weekend to get caught up a bit. One of the weirdest stories I read all week would have to be the guy in Malaysia who opened up his phone bill to find out that the company was charging him 218 trillion dollars:
A Malaysian man said he nearly fainted when he recieved a $218 trillion phone bill and was ordered to pay up within 10 days or face prosecution, a newspaper reported Monday.

Yahaya Wahab said he disconnected his late father's phone line in January after he died and settled the 84 ringgit ($23) bill, the New Straits Times reported.

But Telekom Malaysia later sent him a 806,400,000,000,000.01 ringgit ($218 trillion) bill for recent telephone calls along with orders to settle within 10 days or face legal proceedings, the newspaper reported.

It wasn't clear whether the bill was a mistake, or if Yahaya's father's phone line was used illegally after after his death.

"If the company wants to seek legal action as mentioned in the letter, I'm ready to face it," the paper quoted Yahaya as saying. "In fact, I can't wait to face it," he said.
In most other situations, it would be amazing to me that someone at the company had actually thought the outlandish charges might be correct...except that something similar (albeit on a much smaller scale) happened to me in college.

One year during grad school, two friends and I rented a great two-story townhouse in Denton. One of the guys had his mom come down and help him move in, and she said she would help us get the utilities hooked up through the city. Since the power, etc. was on when we got there, we assumed she had done so. We were curious as to why we didn't get any bills during the fall semester, but since I was used to living in a place where all the bills were paid, I didn't think much of it until we got a notice hung on our door in December that said we had to sign up for service within a few days or the power would be cut off (evidently, the one guy's mom never did hook us up, and the townhouse was listed as vacant, but the city noticed that utilities were being consumed).

I went down to the city and got us registered, and they said a bill would be forthcoming. I figured that it might be a few hundred bucks, since we'd been in there for four months by then. But nothing could prepare me for that first statement, which said that we owed the city $2554...that's right, two thousand, five hundred and fifty-four dollars. There was no way that could be right--could it?

Thus began my saga at City Hall, which I visited quite a few times over the next several months--my first encounter with big bureaucracy (which might explain my disdain for such things). At one point, they actually were trying to tell me that it was possible that the bill was correct (despite my protestations that, even if we had kept every light on 24/7, ran all the stereo systems and TV's constantly, and turned on every electronic keyboard in the house, there was no way we could have used over $2500 worth of energy in four months).

Eventually, they figured it out--there had been new meters installed during the first semester we were there, so the (incorrect) calculations were made by comparing the number on the new meter from the last number on the old one. Even then, it took a while longer to set up a payment plan; a really helpful customer service lady (the only sane person in the loop) came up with a really good one for us, but it almost got nixed when a too-full-of-himself supervisor said, wait, she's only a customer service rep- a supervisor has to authorize such a plan. I wanted to smack him right then and there, but I think we eventually went over his head and got the original plan approved.

So I hope the Malaysian guy has at least similar luck, if not better luck than I had; sometimes you really can fight City Hall and win.

Animal story #1: I used to do animal stories all the time on my KNTU show in college, and quite a few have come over in the past few days. First--a guy in Illinois couldn't come up with the money to spring his dog out of the pound, so he went in and stole the dog back (he got caught and has been charged with theft).

Animal story #2: Rescuers go to great lengths to save a cat that's stuck in a wall in a Greenwich Village, NY deli. (UPDATE: She's still stuck.)

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