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Bank Computer Error Makes 826 Near-Billionaires For a Brief Time

May 18, 1996

CHICAGO (AP) _ Imagine Jeff Ferrera and Cindy Broadwater’s surprise when the young couple dialed up their bank and were told by the automated voice their checking account balance was $924,844,208.32.

They were among more than 800 First National Bank of Chicago customers mistakenly made richer by the same whopping amount in a $763.9 billion computer glitch.

No, they didn’t get to keep the money.

``My friends said `Wire it to the Cayman Islands and buy a new identity.′ Nah, I couldn’t run off and do that,‴ Ferrera, a computer technician at Zenith Electronics, said Saturday from his home in Waukegan. ``It was just unique being called a billionaire for a day. It was the talk at work.″

The American Bankers Association said it was the largest such error in the history of U.S. banking. The total amount was more than six times the total assets of First Chicago NBD Corp., the bank’s holding company.

The bank worked feverishly to correct the problem.

``We froze all accounts and everything was cleared up at 1 a.m. this morning,″ bank spokesman Tom A. Kelly said Saturday.

The problem, blamed on a change in a computer program, surfaced Thursday afternoon.

``We first heard about it when customers called, saying `I haven’t got $924 million in my account, it’s not right,‴ Kelly said. ``I think people are honest.″

First Chicago thought it had the problem fixed late Thursday but more $924 million errors started showing up the next morning. Kelly said the bank would know by Monday whether any customers did transfer funds.

Ferrera, 25, admitted he had thoughts about putting the millions into a short-term, conservative investment, earning a few thousand dollars in interest, then returning all $924.8 million to the bank in a few days.

``By the time I had it all figured out, they put a freeze on the account,″ said Ferrera. ``I figured they won’t catch it for a week, and I’d put it all back. What’s the harm?″

The harm, Kelly says, is bank fraud.

``The government doesn’t appreciate people monkeying around with national banks,″ Kelly said. ``When a customer make use of money he knows is not in his account, it’s bank fraud. And, who thinks he has $924 million in his account?″