Guess we got it wrong, huh?

Single mother Alison Turner has reared two children and supports herself by working in a pub in Cambridge, England, so she isn't easily flustered by life's little challenges. All that changed, however, one day last month when her mail arrived. In it was a bill from Npower, a utility whose website advertises "greener electricity at no extra cost to you or the planet." Alison now is prepared to dispute that – at least the "no extra cost" part – because Npower claimed to have checked her account, "and there is a balance to pay" of $179,736,906.03. Please, it added, contact us "to discuss repayment options." Doing a bit of fast math, British newspapers calculated that all the lamps in Alison's one-bedroom apartment would have to be left burning continuously for 1,900 years to run up a bill that large. What's more, she wasn't even an Npower customer anymore, having switched to a competitor in February because its rates were cheaper. "I know electricity [has] gone up recently," she said, "but this is ridiculous." After taking a couple of deep breaths, she reached Npower by telephone and explained the situation from her point of view. Happily, she was convincing. Said a company spokesman, "When [she] contacted us, we immediately apologized and wiped out the debt." The problem: Right, clerical error. "Our eight-digit account number," the spokesman said, had been "inserted in place of the outstanding balance." Which was? A far more realistic $43.69.

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