The Most Expensive Typos in History



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Is There an Editor in the House?

To err is human, but sometimes even the most innocent of mistakes lead to big, expensive consequences. Typos have led to million-dollar lawsuits, the collapse of businesses, and ending up getting way more than you paid for. Here are some extreme examples of why you should always dot your i's, cross your t's, and maybe even consider hiring an editor when the stakes are high.

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Bunch of keys with house shaped keychain on white wood

87 Properties for the Price of One

A Nevada woman spent $594,481 to buy a single-family home … but ended up with an additional 87 properties. The assessor's office of Washoe County discovered records showed the buyer gained not just the property she intended to purchase, but also 84 house lots and two parcels in a development near Reno. So how did this mistake worth millions of dollars happen? A copy and paste error. The title was copied and pasted from a legal description for a different property transfer, with the sentence “lots 1 through 85 … and Common Areas A and B," included. Oops. Unfortunately for the homeowner, who may have made a mint from a mistake, the title company, assessor, and involved parties are all working to remedy the error. Whether everyone cooperates is yet to be seen.

RelatedWatch Out for These Added Costs When Buying a House

Mariner I rocket
Wikimedia Commons

The World's Most Expensive Missing Hyphen

Talk about an innocent mistake blowing up in your face. In 1962, NASA's unmanned Mariner I rocket exploded only five minutes into what was supposed to be a data-collecting flyby of Venus. Turns out that the dense, hand-transcribed mathematical code controlling the mission was missing a hyphen somewhere. That missing hyphen, likely a programmer's mistake, led the rocket to go rogue, and NASA lost a painful $80 million — or $707 million in today's dollars.

Related: The Greatest American Inventions of the Past 50-Plus Years

People in face masks are sitting in the train in the New York City Subway during Coronavirus outbreak
Masha Zolotukhina/istockphoto

A Subway Map Misfire

If you're a New Yorker who believes in karma, you might particularly enjoy this story. In 2013, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority jacked up the minimum price of a pay-per-ride subway card to $5 from $4.50. Unfortunately, whoever reviewed the new subway maps neglected to make the change (an especially galling error since new maps were issued solely because of the fare hike). The MTA was forced to toss the maps at a cost of roughly $250,000.

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Amber Ale

A Collector's eBay Dream Comes True

One of the most important rules of selling things on eBay? Above all else, describe your listing accurately. In 2007, an Oklahoma collector was able to snap up a half-million-dollar bottle of Samuel Allsopp's Arctic Ale for $304. The sealed brew from about 1850 attracted only two low bids because the seller omitted the last "p" from the name. The winning collector then resold the beer (correctly spelled this time, of course) for $503,300. Ouch, indeed.

A man wearing a masks walks past a Hays Travel Agents on May 05, 2021 in Stoke-on-Trent, England
Nathan Stirk / Contributor / Getty Images News / Getty Images Europe / Getty Images CC

Travel Agency's 'Exotic' Problem

One thing is for sure: "Exotic travel" and "erotic travel," bring to mind two completely different trips. Unfortunately, in 1988, a California travel agent who had paid for a phone book ad saying the former actually got the latter, spooking her clientele. The agent sued Pacific Bell for $10 million, saying she had suffered from mental and physical distress resulting from the error and the subsequent loss of business.

'Basket of Fruit and Admiral Butterfly on Stone Table', 1610
Print Collector / Contributor / Hulton Archive / Getty Images CC

A Juicy Profit, Thanks to a Comma

Commas matter: In 1872, the U.S. government issued a tariff act that specified what could be imported tax-free, and what was subject to tax. Plants and seeds? Usually not taxed, unlike fruit. But the act specified that "Fruit, plants, tropical and semi-tropical" weren't subject to tax. What it meant to say: "Fruit plants," no comma. Though the issue went to court, Uncle Sam ultimately lost $2 million (about $44 million today) and fruit importers were very happy, indeed.

American Football on the Field

The Zero-Yardage Football Bet

For most football fans, stats such as passing yardage are a nerdy footnote that's secondary to an entertaining game. For a few ambitious gamblers, they can mean a tidy windfall. BetMGM offered fans the chance to bet on whether Cleveland's Baker Mayfield and Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes would pass for more than 300 yards in playoff games earlier this year. But the "3" was omitted — and five quick-thinking bettors jumped on it, earning $10,500 between them.

Tokyo, Japan - June 16, 2015: A sign at the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

When It Comes to Stocks, Rules Are Rules

Imagine having a pressure-cooker job as a stock broker, only to make one of the costliest mistakes in trading history. That's what happened in 2005 to a broker with Japan's Mizuho Securities, who sold 610,000 shares in a company for one measly yen apiece, when instead one share was supposed to go for 610,000 yen. The Tokyo Stock Exchange refused to nix the trade, and Mizuho was out a staggering $225 million. 

plastic milk bottles on conveyor belt. equipment at the dairy plant

Revenge of the Oxford Comma

Commas matter, part II: If you're a fan of the Oxford comma, tell all the naysayers this story. In 2018, a Maine dairy company had to cough up $5 million after its drivers sued over an unclear state overtime law exempting "the canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution" of perishable foods. A judge agreed that as written, the law wasn't clear on whether workers who only distribute food were exempt from overtime — ambiguity that could have been avoided with a comma before "or."


Talk About a Doorbuster

Getting a $1,500 necklace made with gold, silver, and diamonds for $479 seems like a pretty good deal. But how about $47? That's what happened when someone omitted a "9" from what was supposed to be a $479 sale price in a Macy's catalog back in 2013, allowing several customers to walk away from the jewelry counter with the deal of a lifetime on some expensive bling.

Bankruptcy document folder with lawyer work at law firm. concept of bankruptcy law, bankrupt,bankruptcy court,

One Letter Brings Down a Business

Call it the power of the plural: In 2009, the Welsh government filed paperwork saying that Taylor & Sons, an engineering company that employed more than 250 people, had folded. The problem? Taylor & Sons was actually just fine; it was a firm named Taylor & Son — singular — that had gone out of business. The error caused business to evaporate at Taylor & Sons, pushing the company to sue for about $12 million.


An Error of Biblical Proportions

Typos aren't a modern gaffe. Ever heard of the "Wicked Bible"? It's a nickname given to a 1631 edition of the vaunted King James Bible. The devil was in the details of the Seventh Commandment, which read, "Thou shalt commit adultery." Ooooooooops. King Charles I demanded that every copy be burned. Interestingly, the Wicked Bible also proclaims not the greatness but the "great-asse" of God. The printer was fined 300 pounds, a massive sum at the time, and died a lonely death in debtors' prison.

Homemade pasta on a wooden background. Italian style cuisine. Restaurant. Background

Spellcheck Goes Rogue

Here's a very different kind of "bible" gaffe. Penguin Australia had to destroy 7,000 copies of a cookbook, "The Pasta Bible," in 2010 because a tagliatelle recipe called not for freshly ground black pepper, but "freshly ground black people." Yikes. The publisher apologized and attributed the eye-popping error to a slip-up by a spellcheck program.

Roof of homes against mountain and sky in Utah. View of the roofs of homes with chimneys in Daybreak Utah community. The majestic Wasatch mountains and glowing cloudy sky can be seen in the bckground.
Jason Finn/istockphoto

Home Values Are Crazy, But …

A slip of the fingers (or maybe even a dropped cellphone) led local government officials to overvalue a home in Wasatch County, Utah, by more than $540 million in 2019. The error went unnoticed until six months after the tax roll was completed and a new tax rate certified. By then, the county, local schools, and other entities had planned their budgets relying on a certain number of tax dollars, and they collectively ended up facing a $6 million shortfall.

A line of telephone poles in front of a colorful sky at sunset.

Commas and Contracts Don't Mix

Commas matter, part III: A Canadian cable company lost big in a disagreement with phone company Bell Aliant in 2006 because of punctuation. At issue was a single comma that regulators said meant Bell Aliant could cancel an agreement to use Rogers Communication's telephone poles after just one year, not five years. The lost business cost Rogers more than $800,000.

Amazon fulfillment center exterior shot in North Las Vegas Nevada USA . Amazon is the most famous on-line shopping company in the world.

Paying for Amazon's Mistake

You had one job, Amazon. In 2017, the mega-company was fixing a small billing issue related to its web-storage service, used by tons of companies — even, oddly enough, rival Apple. But a team member who was supposed to take only a few servers offline goofed, taking out a lot more servers than intended with an innocent typo. Unfortunately, the error took seven hours to rectify, and a range of companies lost about $150 million due to website outages and delays.

An Airbus A320 of Italian Airline Alitalia is being prepared for flight at Frankfurt Airport

A First-Class Bargain

Nothing's better than a deal, especially on expensive airline tickets. Eagle-eyed travelers snagged the bargain of a lifetime in 2006, when they were able to buy round-trip tickets from Toronto to Cyprus on Alitalia for about $33. The real price was supposed to be $3,900 in Canada, or about $3,220 in U.S. dollars, but someone omitted the final two zeros. Alitalia rectified the error, of course, not not until after 509 lucky travelers made the purchase. To the now-defunct airline's credit, it honored the ticket price for those who'd already paid, losing big money in the process.

Election sign at Polling Station of Woodbridge, Ontario, Canada.

On the Ballot: Big-Time Embarrassment

The specter of dropping the "l" from the word "public" in a prominent headline has kept many news editors up at night. But for a Michigan county, that error was as costly as it was cringeworthy. Ottawa County was forced to reprint 170,000 ballots at a cost of $40,000 in 2006 because "pubic" was subbed in for "public" in language describing a proposed state amendment banning certain affirmative-action programs. Several officials overlooked the error during proofreading, the county clerk said.

The US Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron were showing precision flying with their Boeing F/A-18 Hornet aircraft at the 2014 Miramar airshow in California. On this hot day they were many aircraft representing each military branch and displaying their avia

Lockheed Martin's Comma Blunder

Commas matter, part IV: In this case, they're worth about $70 million. That's how much Lockheed Martin lost in 1999 thanks to an errant comma in a contract for the company's C-130J Hercules, a massive military transport plane. It was just one decimal point off — in Europe, commas are often subbed in for decimals — but the buyer held the company to the price as written.