PayPal Glitch Actually Put Man $92 Quadrillion in the Red

Stephanie Farr
Copyright Stephanie Farr

For one brief, sparkling moment, an eBay (EBAY) user thought he'd been granted the nominal title of Earth's only quadrillionaire by the auction site's online payment service. In fact, his monthly PayPal statement showed a negative balance of more than $92 quadrillion, which would have made him more than 5,500 times more indebted than the United States government.

Chris Reynolds, 56, of Media, Pa., opened an email from PayPal on Friday to see the staggering sum of $92,233,720,368,547,800 -- a figure more than 1.26 million times the fortune of the world's richest person, Mexican telecom magnate Carlos Slim Helu (as estimated by Forbes).

This understandably caused Reynolds some confusion. On Monday he told the Philadelphia Daily News that the astronomical amount had been credited to his account -- "I'm just feeling like a million bucks," he said -- though he added, "At first I thought that I owed quadrillions. It was quite a big surprise." In fact, the purported balance really was negative, as a screenshot of Reynolds' statement shows:

Account statement
Courtesy Chris Reynolds

When Reynolds logged on to PayPal's site, however, he saw a less unexpected balance: zero. The error, evidently, had been corrected. Still thinking he'd had a near miss with the goddess Fortuna, and in a generous frame of mind, he donated $30 to the Democratic slate for Delaware County Council.

Reynolds owns a public relations firm with his wife and said he generally spends no more than $100 a month using PayPal, buying and selling vintage car parts on eBay. Back when he thought he had briefly been the recipient of an e-bonanza, Reynolds said he would have used the money to pay down the national debt, then to "buy the Phillies, if I could get a great price," according to the Daily News. No word on what Reynolds would have done had he actually owed more than $92 trillion, as the statement indicated.

PayPal has been close-lipped about how such a gargantuan error occurred, citing its policy of not giving out information on customer accounts. But Reynolds told DailyFinance that PayPal offered to make a donation to a nonprofit of his choice. "They seem to have a sense of humor about this technical glitch," he said.

This post has been updated to reflect that the enormous error was in fact a negative balance, not a credit, as Mr. Reynolds had initially said.

[H/T: Circa]