Date Added: May 22, 2003
This story of a consumer winning over the faceless (and mindless) corporate machine is very popular, but there is no reason to believe it true and many more reasons to believe it is nothing more than an apocryphal account of something we'd all like to be true - as long as it happened to someone else.
TRUE STORY from Australia
What a world? (country NSW)... On Thursday, 24 January 2002, Derek Guille broadcast this story on his afternoon program on ABC radio.
In March, 1999, a man living in Kandos (near Mudgee in NSW) received a bill for his as yet unused gas line stating that he owed $0.00. He ignored it and threw it away. In April he received another bill and threw that one away too. The following month the gas company sent him a very nasty note stating they were going to cancel his gas line if he didn't send them $0.00 by return mail. He called them, talked to them, and they said it was a computer error and they would take care of it.
The following month he decided that it was about time that he tried out the troublesome gas line figuring that if there as usage on the account it would put an end to this ridiculous predicament. However, when he went to use the gas, it had been cut off. He called the gas company who apologised for the computer error once again and said that they would take care of it.
The next day he got a bill for $0.00 stating that payment was now overdue.
Assuming that having spoken to them the previous day the latest bill was yet another mistake, so he ignored it, trusting that the company would be as good as their word and sort the problem out.
The next month he got a bill for $0.00. This bill also stated that he had 10 days to pay his account or the company would have to take steps to recover the debt.
Finally, giving in, he thought he would beat the company at their own game and mailed them a cheque for $0.00. The computer duly processed his account and returned a statement to the effect that he now owed the gas company nothing at all.
A week later, the manager of the Mudgee branch of the Westpac Banking Corporation called our hapless friend and asked him what he was doing writing cheque for $0.00. After a lengthy explanation the bank manager replied that the $0.00 cheque had caused their cheque processing software to fail. The bank could therefore not process ANY cheques they had received from ANY of their customers that day because the cheque for $0.00 had caused the computer to crash.
The following month the man received a letter from the gas company claiming that his cheque has bounced and that he now owed them $0.00 and unless he sent a cheque by return mail they would take immediate steps to recover the debt. At this point, the man decided to file a debt harassment claim against the gas company.
It took him nearly 2 hours to convince the clerks at the local courthouse that he was not joking. They subsequently assisted him in the drafting of statements which were considered substantive evidence of the aggravation and difficulties he had been forced to endure during this debacle. The matter was heard in the Magistrate's Court in Mudgee and the outcome was this:
The gas company was ordered to:
 Immediately rectify their computerised accounts system or show cause, within 10 days, why the matter should not be referred to a higher court for consideration under company Law.
 Pay the bank dishonour fees incurred by the man.
 Pay the bank dishonour fees incurred by all the Westpac clients whose cheques had been bounced on the day our friend's had been.
 Pay the claimant's court costs; and
 Pay the claimant a total of $1500 per month for the 5 month period March to July inclusive as compensation for the aggravation they had caused their client to suffer.
And all this over $0.00.
This story can also be viewed on the ABC website.
The missive above is just the latest retelling of a universal consumer frustration tale that has been set in a variety of locations, and dates back to at least 1997. In its original form, the story told of a consumer in Boston, Massachusetts, who fell victim to a glitch in a computer at his credit card company.
The legend appeals to our frustrations at the Corporate world's increasing reliance upon computers, to the exclusion and often detriment to the humans who try to get what use to be simple customer service. The moral is that computers aren't perfect and that big corporations are too reliant upon them to make the simplest decisions without them.
The latest version, seen above, tacks on the epilogue about the frustrated consumer filing a complaint against the company and winning, costing them thousands, all over "a bill for $0.00." This addition changes the tome to a tale of consumer revenge against the corporate machine.
While it is not inconceivable for someone to receive a statement for $0.00 from a creditor, the rest of the story is unlikely to be true. Writing a check for $0.00 will not cause your bank's check processing software to crash. If it were that easy, don't you think somebody would have caught on by now? (Afraid of being overdrawn? No problem! Just write a $0.00 check and buy yourself an extra day!)
There is no reason to believe any variation of this story is true. Unfortunately, as with most urban legends, it provides no verifiable details (like the person's name, the company name, etc.), so we can prove it neither true nor false.
It may be true that Derek Guille read the chain letter above on his radio show, but that wouldn't be the first time a radio entertainer related an urban legend over the air and called it fact. I have not, however, been able to confirm that he did. Break this chain.
References: Derek Guille, Snopes.com