Is this an isolated case, or will we start to see more : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

This one from this mornings Australian,

Re Timothy J Wilbur

Bank error double dips accounts


THE Commonwealth Bank has accidentally doubled the electronic withdrawals made by customers in the past two days.

Thousands of transactions were affected when a computer processing fault duplicated electronic debits made since Wednesday.

The embarrassing error, which stemmed from the bank's processing centre in Sydney, effectively wiped out millions of dollars from accounts across Australia.

It was discovered early yesterday.

While some customers had withdrawals doubled, others had no debits recorded despite making a debit transaction.

Some branches also suffered computer and telephone crashes on Thursday.

The incident comes almost 18 months to the day that a similar problem doubled debits and credits for more than 300,000 Commonwealth customers, costing the bank $15 million in misplaced funds.

A bank spokesman said yesterday it was not known what caused the latest error, which was being fixed last night.

The spokesman refused to say how many customers and transactions were affected. He would also not say what caused last year's problems or whether they were related.

"Let's just say it was a significant number," he said of the number of customers affected.

"Sometimes problems occur and we work as fast as possible to rectify the matter. There was a processing error and we're still investigating the cause of the problem."

The error affected only Commonwealth customers using the bank's own machines.

The Commonwealth Bank is the biggest processor of transactions in the country and in the last financial year increased the number of its EFTPOS terminals by 31 per cent to 83,038 and ATMs by 9 per cent to 2501.

In that time it also closed almost 120 branches, encouraging its more than 7.5 million customers to use electronic banking.

The bank spokesman said those with low funds in accounts who were temporarily inconvenienced would have been given cash advances by branches.

The bank's customer service line  which deals with 1.1 million inquiries a week  was inundated with calls yesterday.

-- Timothy J Wilbur (, November 20, 1998


This is something that had crossed my mind recently. How safe is money in bank accounts that have electronic debits done on them?

Will people cancel bill paying by electronic debiting in 1999 and go back to paying by check? Will they feel they need a large chunk of cash outside the bank to deal with this situation?

I think banks will wish they had finished both remediation AND testing by December 31, 1998...

-- Kevin (, November 20, 1998.


From the symptoms described, and from my experience in electronic funds transfer programming, it looks to me like:

Someone mistakenly ran part of the bank's ATM withdrawals settlement a second time, instead of running another period's settlement. This would have the effect of doubling some withdrawals and omitting others, from the customers' point of view.

This was almost certainly caused by an operational error with no relationship to Y2K.

Though it is possible for a Y2K problem to have effects which might lead to processing a dataset twice, I know from experience that the sort of error I am supposing has been happening since the beginnings of ATM networks.

As we approach 2000, more and more "ordinary" "computer errors" will be suspected to have a Y2K connection. In many cases, there will be no grounds for such suspicion. In some, there will.

-- No Spam Please (, November 21, 1998.

Paying by check is just as subject to electronic glitches.

Am I wrong?

-- Tom Carey (, November 21, 1998.

When you write a check, you know how much it's for. If you get a bill from a company that wants $900 for the month when it's always $300 a month, you'd probably either just write a check for $300 and send it in, or call a toll-free number to report the billing error.

But what if that monthly $300 payment is taken care of by electronic debit? A glitch causes the bill to triple, and your account is $600 short of what it should be.

Of course, this will all be moot when you compare that to problems like bank runs or a loss of international phone service.

-- Kevin (, November 21, 1998.

Since the article says this almost exact same problem happened 18 months ago, I would feel inclined that this one was not Y2K related. YOu probably will see similar things to it though. I do feel though that this is a good example of the type of computer problems that happen in the world every day, we are just more hyper-aware to them right now than ever before. The problems caused by Y2K will be on an order of magnitude many times this, but it does prove things never run at 100% perfect.

Tom - Yes paying by check does also have its problems.


-- Rick Tansun (, November 21, 1998.

Although this is likely not Y2K caused, it is an indicator (advance red flag/warning). Remember when one satellite malfunction knocked out all the pagers? Not Y2K related, just an indicator.


-- Diane J. Squire (, November 21, 1998.

What tells us it's not Y2K related? Or Y2K related? Nothing. We're just speculating. It could be Y2K related even though they had a glitch 18 months ago. They could have decided to switch to a different system entirely because of it, and this new system wasn't tweaked properly before it went live. Or, it could have been a human error. The article doesn't give any clue. But the fact that the spokesman wouldn't give any details at all is suspicious. If it was human error, why not say it?

-- Chris (, November 21, 1998.

What I mean by human error is someone physically giving wrong commands to the system, as opposed to a bug in the system written by a human. Thought that needed clarification ;)

-- Chris (, November 21, 1998.


What is the name of the paper this article came from and what is their web-site link URL?

Thanks, Diane

-- Diane J. Squire (, November 21, 1998.

Here's the link to the story:

-- Kevin (, November 21, 1998.

Kevin, you get my vote for "Most Helpful Link Finder!" Thanks! :-)

-- Gayla Dunbar (, November 21, 1998.


>But the fact that the spokesman wouldn't give any details at all is suspicious. If it was human error, why not say it?

Because it's been customary for decades for business to lump stuff like this under the convenient heading of "computer error". It happened in the 1980s, 1970s, 1960s and 1950s. It's a face-saving and litigation-saving tactic for the company. They may honestly not yet have determined the exact cause. This sort of stuff went on long before Y2K became noticeable.

>What tells us it's not Y2K related? Or Y2K related? Nothing. We're just speculating.

I have personally witnessed problems that matched what's reported in this article in all important respects. They were not Y2K related.

>It could be Y2K related even though they had a glitch 18 months ago.

Yes, it could. But there's no reason to spread our Y2K attention to cover situations with no indication of Y2K-relatedness when a perfectly good non-Y2K explanation exists.

>They could have decided to switch to a different system entirely because of it, and this new system wasn't tweaked properly before it went live. Or, it could have been a human error. The article doesn't give any clue.

So, until details pointing to a Y2K connection are available, let's worry about the known-to-be-Y2K-related problems. :-)

-- No Spam Please (, November 21, 1998.

Ahhh lets just blame the Operator - he/she just probably loaded the same tape twice:-))

-- Andy (, November 21, 1998.

Blame the operator?

Okay, so who'd they fire?

It's speculation, and I agree with the premis that it may not be y2K related, but this does happen. (Grocery chain locally was "double"deducting automatic debit card transactions. Don't know if deliberate or not, it went on for a while, and they correted manually all those from people who has complained. But what fraction actually noticed and complained?)

What is important to notice is that the vaunted "electronic triage" of you, your money, and your purchases needs to be checked manually. More as things get closer to 2000.

Based on the "VISA is toast" thread, I'd definitely recommend stopping all automatic debits in Nov 1999 - earlier enough to be sure thay did stop, and to verify that your check did get to the payee for everything else confuses the issues in Dec/Jan/Feb 1999.

-- Robert A. Cook, P.E. (Kennesaw, GA) (, November 21, 1998.

Who do you fire? The programmer who permitted a tape to be loaded twice.

If you see electronic deduction errors one month, start thinking instantly about obtaining a new account number. There are not too many rules out there pertaining to your security; just the banks...

A company can say you gave them permission to remove money from your account. That's about all it takes as far as I have been told. You cannot tell the bank to stop any particular electronic deductions that are being made.

My business web domain name is very similar to another company who does electronic deductions. *We* do not do this ourselves. I am constantly getting emails from irate individuals who want the deductions to stop; that they weren't authorized, that they don't even know why they are being deducted, etc.

All I can do is pass these people on to the more likely domain.

Do cash or money order transactions if you feel the banks are or will be loosing it.

It wouldn't hurt to take them down a peg anyway. They are constantly growing larger, earning billions of dollars in profits and yet they don't produce a real product. They simply bring lenders and borrowers together and charge like hell in the process. It shouldn't be that difficult. It seems to me they would do much more for the economy and the national gnp, if they were regulated down to be a low or non profit *service* for those who live and produce here. (Sorry; a little, off topic, rant.)



-- Floyd Baker (, November 22, 1998.

I agree with No Spam Please. I also have a number of years of experience in banking (10 years) as a software development project manager and this problem has the familiar ring of a double posted ATM or ACH tape as suggested.

By the way, I'm not sure stopping electronic debits is such a good idea. Considered it myself, but think I'm going to let it ride for now. There's not much difference between processing electronic debits and processing checks. Either way, they are both subject to Y2K problems. At least with electronic debits, the company that you owe money is responsible for initiating the debit transaction. If problems occur, it's on their end. If you stop all electronic debits and use checks, the post office has to handle it (anyone want to guess how long that might take post Y2K?) plus it still has to go through all of the electronic clearinghouse processes that the electronic debit did just to get the money transferred from your bank to theirs. At least electronic debits cuts out the middle man (the post office).

In other words, if problems occur, I suspect both will be equally impacted.


-- David (, November 23, 1998.

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