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Billionaire for 5 hours: What would you do?

Bank error showed nearly $89 billion in a Florida man's business account.

By Karen Datko Apr 2, 2010 2:08PM

The following would have been more appropriate on April 1: A Florida man found $88,888,888,888.88 in his business' SunTrust Bank account when he checked it online one night last week, The Wealth Report blog in The Wall Street Journal reports.


Paul Fischer quickly diagnosed a bank error, but he asked if he could transfer the ghost balance to an interest-bearing account until the problem was fixed and donate the earnings -- $7.3 million -- to charity. You can guess SunTrust’s answer. Five hours later, his account was back to normal.


The same kind of error happened in an unspecified number of other SunTrust accounts. No real money was involved. “SunTrust traced the problem to an error in the bank’s balance reporting system, which resulted in some accounts being filled with multiple 8s,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said.

“This kind of bank error happens frequently. But Mr. Fischer raises an interesting question: What if, for five hours, you truly did have $89 billion?” The Wealth Report blogger Robert Frank wrote. The rules for his game: You have to return the loot “and whatever you bought or invested with it” after the time has lapsed.


It's an interesting thought. It also reminds me of a story. Years ago, I was spending a weekend at the home of a couple I know, and we all decided to buy lottery tickets. Early the next day, after the winning numbers had been picked, the husband went back to the store and purchased a new ticket with the winning numbers. (The real winner got more than $100 million, if memory serves me right.) He carefully replaced his wife’s losing ticket with the new one.


Well, when she woke up and examined her ticket, she thought she’d won. (Of course, she didn't look at the date.) She screamed and called her mother in New Jersey and screamed some more. The husband let this charade go on for about 30 minutes before I made him confess the prank. (Killjoy, I know.)


Do you have a similar story to share? Or simply share your thoughts: What would you do if you had $89 billion for five hours and then had to give it all back. Unlike Frank, we’ll let you keep whatever proceeds you made.


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