French Woman Receives $15 Quadrillion Cell Phone Bill

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Graham Winterbottom / Getty Images

A woman works on paying bills.

If Thomas Paine were to update his famous quotation for modern times, perhaps he’d consider cell phone companies just as necessary of an evil as he did government back in 1776. And a French woman has reason to complain louder than the rest of us. When Solenne San Jose terminated her cell phone contract last month, she had no idea what switching providers would cost her.

When the woman from Pessac, near Bordeaux in southwest France, severed ties with provider Telecom Bouygues before her contract ended, and the company warned her she’d have to pay a cancellation fee that would appear on her next bill, Technorati reported. But she didn’t anticipate just how much.

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Upon opening the statement, she found herself face-to-face with a bill somewhat higher than usual: €11,721,000,000,000,000. That’s the equivalent of about 15 quadrillion U.S. dollars. In case the total is a bit too large to comprehend, it works out to about 5,872 times of France’s annual GDP. In fact, there’s not even that much money in circulation in the whole of Europe. If she gathered every euro available, it would only represent .0008% of the amount she owed. Worst of all, Bouygues automatically charged San Jose’s bank account, according to French publication Sud Ouest.

San Jose called Bouygues several times to dispute the charge, but the company neither stopped the transaction on her bank account nor admitted to making a mistake on the bill. She continued to barrage the provider with calls, which tacked €12.50 to her bill each time. Bouygues twice offered San Jose a payment plan for the fee before finally confessing it made a printing error, Sud Ouest reported.

Other customers have faced unreasonably large cell phone bills in the past, but none can stand up to the sheer exorbitance of San Jose’s. In 2006, the Associated Press reported that a Malaysian man received a bill for the equivalent of $218 trillion, which his provider gave him 10 days to pay. More recently, the Associated Press reported in 2011 that T-Mobile charged a Florida woman $201,000 because her brothers had racked up thousands of dollars in texting and data charges when during a visit to Canada for two weeks without switching to an international plan. In the end, T-Mobile slashed the bill to $2,500 and gave the woman six months to pay for the charges after she approached the local FOX affiliate WSVN with her story.

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9 comments
whileloops
whileloops

Cell phone providers are anonymous for fraudulent billing, based on my experience with ATT and T-Mobile.

mystere
mystere

That defines the term "highway robbery" now.

Zitherbell
Zitherbell

How old is that cell phone in the picture?  I think I saw that random photo of "a woman paying her bills" in a Lucent ad in '96.  Guess it could be worse, could have been a rotary phone shaped like a football.  Love the lazy 'tude Time.com has with graphics.  I feel a ameme coming on.

DDB9000
DDB9000

Especially strange since the the original article in Sud Ouest actually shows the woman and the bill.  Couldn't Time just have used that?

beansngravy
beansngravy

 I still use a phone just like that..... I guess its time to upgrade.

sacredh
sacredh

If you bundle your phone and internet service, you'll save a few dollars. Maybe she should try that.

jambaman
jambaman

That'd be a da mn BIG BUNDLE!!!