The $225 Million Typo

"Are you sure you said 'one?' I swear I heard you say '610,000.'"

Thus, we surmise, began the very uncomfortable conversation earlier this week at Mizuho Securities Company in Japan, upon discovering that it accidentally offered to sell 610,000 shares of J-Com Co. for less than one penny per share -- when the client really meant to sell one share at 610,000 yen (about $5,000).

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, a data input error at the financial services firm is behind the botched sell order. The typo cost the company 27 billion yen, or $225 million, and countless utterances of "moshiwake gozaimasen" (the most formal version of "I'm really, really, really, really sorry" in Japanese).

The mea culpas weren't enough to keep the Nikkei 225 index from dipping nearly 2%, or the Mizuho Financial Group from shrinking 3.4% to 890,000 yen (around $7,500 a share). The erroneous trade will likely eat up the company's $233 million worth of first-quarter profits as well.

Unfortunately, there are no do-overs for Mizuho: The Tokyo Stock Exchange will not reverse the transaction. (MFG traders probably shouldn't count on a big Christmas bonus.)

The million-dollar clerical error
Big-dollar blunders aren't the sole provenance of corporations. Earlier this year, Bruce Friedman was summarily passed over for his wife's $900,000 pension because of a technicality. The problem? Outdated beneficiary paperwork.

His wife's employer had reported for years that there was no beneficiary designation form on file, which legally meant that her pension would go to her closest living relative -- her husband. However, after her sudden death, a forgotten form -- filed in 1974, four years before the couple first met on a blind date -- was found. It named Ann Friedman's sister as beneficiary, instead of her husband of nearly two decades.

Even if it's not $1 million or so at stake, there are a lot of overlooked "oopsy daisies" that add up. It's the little things -- the accidental late fee, account inactivity charges, penalty interest rates, the intended $3.20 tip that comes out as $32.00 because of tipsy happy-hour handwriting.

Americans spend billions of dollars each year on avoidable fees. Last year we handed more than $24 billion to credit card companies (around $220 per U.S. household) -- $15 billion of which came from penalty fees, according to CardTrak.com. That's a 150% increase in penalty-fee income since 1998 for companies like Citigroup (NYSE: C  ) , MBNA (NYSE: KRB  ) (the brand behind the Fool credit card), JP Morgan Chase (NYSE: JPT  ) , American Express (NYSE: AXP  ) , Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC  ) , and Capital One Financial (NYSE: COF  ) -- names you might recognize from the cards lining your wallet.

We're still waiting for the formal thank-you -- the "doumo arigatou gozaimasu" -- from lenders for our financial flub-ups.

Want to avoid a million-dollar clerical error in your family? Read on:

Fools, now is the time to open your hearts and wallets to worthy causes! Please support our five Foolish charities at www.foolanthropy.com.

Dayana Yochim apologizes for holding no financial position in any of the stocks listed above. The Fool's disclosure policy means never having to say you're sorry.


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