I once lived in an illegal apartment in Brooklyn where the landlord divvied up one electric bill among the tenants, allegedly to mitigate suspicion from The Authorities. This may or may not have been a scam, and one month my roommate and I were on the hook for over $700. That was pretty bad, but not quite as bad as the bill for $284 billion one Pennsylvania woman ended up getting from her electricity provider this month. Naturally, she blamed her Christmas lights.
Erie, Pennsylvania resident Mary Horomanski, 58, was shocked when she opened her electric bill online and saw she owed $284,460,000,000—with a first payment of $28,176 immediately due—to electricity provider Penelec. “I opened it up and there it was,” she told the Washington Post. “When you see something like that, your heart starts beating, you break out into a little sweat, like, ‘What on Earth just happened?’”
Horomanski first thought her holiday decorations were responsible for all the extra zeroes. “We had put up Christmas lights and I wondered if we had put them up wrong,” she told the Erie Times-News, which first reported the story.
It turns out Horomanski didn’t really owe her electric provider an amount nearly equivalent to Chile’s entire GDP, and her real bill was $284.46. Still, Horomanski’s moment of distress speaks to both the psychological damage inflicted by the now-vanquished War on Christmas, and also confirms my theory that auto-pay, like electric heat, was invented specifically to rip you off.