Amex bill for pounds 13m does very nicely indeed

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The Independent Online
THEY tell you never to leave home without it. Next time you run up a dinner bill for pounds 13m, you'll wish you had taken their advice.

That was how much American Express credited to a restaurant after an unsuspecting diner signed a bill that had been accidentally muddled by a waiter.

Instead of the pounds 12.40 she was expecting, Gold Card holder Carolyn Stone's Amex account was billed for pounds 13,674,452.88. To everyone's astonishment, the amount was approved.

"It was a simple mistake - with some card numbers being punched into the computer instead of the numbers from the bill - but we simply couldn't believe it when it was approved," said Frances McNulty, manager of the Finca tapas bar in Islington, north London.

"I got on to the Amex people straight away, but they seemed flummoxed. Several people over two days - last Sunday and Monday - said they couldn't help. Eventually, they said I had to speak to the back office and I thought 'Oh my God, this is starting to sound a bit like Nick Leeson's dealing.'

"I finally got a guy from the help desk and told him we had a bit of a problem. He said 'No you don't, you have a mega-problem.'"

Thirty-four hours after the pounds 13m bill was paid, Amex's fraud office remedied the situation and Ms Stone's bill for pounds 12.40 was fed through.

"We weren't too worried because we hadn't done anything wrong, but it was a bit scary being in the middle of all those millions," said Ms McNulty. "I know Gold Cards aren't supposed to have a limit ... but pounds 13m?"

An American Express spokesman said the incident was being investigated but stressed that there was never any possibility of pounds 13m being deducted from Ms Stone's account.

Staff at the Finca are trying to trace Ms Stone. "The least we can do is buy her a meal," said Ms McNulty. "But we'll definitely be paying in cash ..."