The Most Costly Typos in the World

A couple of years ago, I was proofreading an annual report for one of the Big 4 banks, only to find the word ‘divided’ had been used a few times instead of ‘dividend’ – a pretty significant typo for a publically listed financial institution.

Whilst this mistake was easily remedied, typos can cost companies lots of money—up to millions of dollars. Here are some examples.

Car dealership loses US$50 million (or $250,000 in Walmart gift cards). In 2007, in Roswell, New Mexico, a local car dealership mailed out 50,000 scratchies, only one of which would contain a $1,000 prize. However, the company that printed the cards somehow printed every one with a $1,000 prize. Because the dealership could not honor the debt, they offered a $5 Walmart gift card for every winning ticket.

He pulled a Davilar. In 1994, Juan Pablo Davila, a then-copper trader, was working for Codelco in Chile. A serious typo in his trading resulted in the purchase of stocks that were falling in value, instead of selling them. Davila went on a buying and selling frenzy to make amends. But by the end of the day, he had cost his company and his country US$175 million. Today, his name is a verb in Chile. “Davilar” means messing up in a huge way.

Mizuho Securities sells too low. In December 2005, Mizuho Securities of Japan introduced a recruitment company to its portfolio. The company’s shares were priced at 610,000 yen per share. Less than a year later, a trader at the company sold 610,000 shares at one yen each. The Tokyo Stock Exchange would not reverse the error, no matter how much the company begged. The amount of damage? US$340 million.

A missing “R” results in a costly error. A construction project required 10 sets of drawings, which each cost $1,000 to print. When a client received their set, they noticed that in all the kitchens, the word “pantry” was missing the “r.” All 10 sets were reprinted at the company’s cost: US$10,000 total for a one-letter typo.

Houston, we have another problem. In July of 1962, a hyphen omitted from mathematical/computer code caused the failure of a spacecraft launched toward Venus. The cost of the omission? US$18,500,000. Now that’s a costly typo!

Here’s one that may not have cost anything—and in fact earned the company billions. We’ve all know Google, but did you know its name was spelled in error? Sean Anderson, a student at Stanford University, helped Larry Page come up with the name and spelling of the search engine. Anderson had suggested “googolplex,” which Page shortened to “googol.” However, Anderson then went to check the availability of the domain name and accidentally spelled it “Google”. Nobody knows if the spelling has helped the company succeed, but at least it’s one example where a typo didn’t cost a company millions—or billions—of dollars.

(Incidentally, Harvard University researchers claim that Google earns about US$497 million each year from everyday people mistyping the names of popular websites and landing on “typosquatter” sites, which just happen to be full of Google ads.)

A typo took 9 years off a prisoner’s sentence. Calvin Eugene Wells discovered a mistake on the verdict form for his conviction. He had been sentenced in Ohio, USA, in October 2005 for 10 years after being convicted of possessing more than 100 grams of cocaine. However, upon reading the verdict form signed by the jurors who convicted him, he noticed it said he possessed ten one hundred grams of cocaine. As the amount was unclear, his sentence was reduced to one year. As he had already served this time, he was released from prison.

As you can see, simple typos can lead to serious financial devastation. In the case of Google, they got lucky, but the other examples here show how much money is at stake when documents are not proofread carefully. Think about this the next time you send even a simple email! Or write a cheque.

For help with copywriting, proofreading or editing any of your business documents, contact Proof Communications on 02 8036 5532 or 0411 123 216 or head to the contact page.

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