Credit card fraud involves using a stolen or fake credit card to get cash or purchase goods. Credit card fraud also includes using someone else's credit card without their permission. Credit card fraud is a crime in California with possible penalties including a felony conviction, fines, and prison time.
Credit Card Fraud in California
Credit card fraud is a type of theft in California, under Penal Code 484e-484j. This includes the use of stolen credit cards, forging credit card information, fraudulent use of credit cards, counterfeiting credit cards, and publishing credit card information.
Under California Penal Code 484e(a), “every person who, with intent to defraud, sells, transfers, or conveys, an access card, without the cardholder's or issuer's consent, is guilty of grand theft.”
Additionally, it is considered a type of grand theft to unlawfully obtain credit cards of four or more persons within a 12-month period, even if the individual never sells or uses the cards fraudulently.
Credit Card Counterfeiting
It may be possible to alter another person's credit card to be able to use it in a store or machine to make a purchase. This could involve simply changing the signature to make it match the counterfeiter's signature, or it could involve creating a new card from a blank, with embossed numbers and counterfeited information.
Anyone who, with the intent to defraud, designs, makes, alters or embosses a counterfeit credit card is guilty of forgery. PC 484f(a)
Under California Penal Code 484d(8), “a counterfeit access card includes “any access card that is counterfeit, fictitious, altered, or forged or any false representation or depiction of an access card or a component thereof.”
Types of Credit Cards
The term, “access card” includes “any card, plate, code, account number, or other means of account access that can be used, alone or in conjunction with another access card, to obtain money, goods, services, or any other thing of value, or that can be used to initiate a transfer of funds, other than a transfer originated solely by a paper instrument. PC 484d(8).
There are many types of cards that are included in California fraud charges. This includes:
- Major credit cards (such as Visa, MasterCard, Discover, or American Express)
- Department store cards (such as Macy's, Nordstrom, Sears, Target)
- Debit cards
- ATM cards
- Store gift cards
- Company credit cards
- Gas station cards
Examples of Credit Card Fraud
There are a number of actions that could be considered credit card fraud. This may allow individuals to use another person's credit card to make purchases without consent, obtaining credit cards in another person's name, using stolen credit card numbers to make online purchases, or counterfeiting credit cards that appear legitimate.
Using stolen credit card offers or applying for credit cards in another individual's name may involve taking cards or offers out of someone's mailbox, or changing the address to be delivered to another location. These cards may be opened without the cardholder is aware of the new card. Without the cardholder's knowledge of a new card, it may take awhile before the fraud is detected.
Credit card fraud is increasingly taking place online. Using credit card numbers and easily obtained security information, individuals can make online purchases using someone else's credit card. These may include online service purchases or products to be delivered to an address that is picked up later. With stolen credit card numbers, individuals may even create usable credit cards to make purchases at stores or gas stations.
Penalties for Credit Card Fraud in California
The penalties involved in credit card fraud cases depend on a number of factors, including the defendant's criminal history, amount of fraud involved, and the fraud victims. Generally, a first-time conviction and lower-value fraud may be charged as a misdemeanor, with up to a year in jail.
More extensive credit card fraud, higher value fraud, or prior credit card fraud convictions may lead to felony criminal charge. The penalties for felony credit card fraud may include up to three years in jail, a fine of up to $10,000, and parole.
Federal Credit Card Fraud Charges
Credit card fraud is also a federal crime. Credit card fraud involves interstate banking, online purchases, and federal laws, making it subject to federal criminal law.
Smaller credit card fraud crimes are generally handled by the state criminal court. However, more extensive credit card fraud, fraud across state lines, or credit card fraud involving multiple people may be investigated by federal agencies (such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation), and prosecuted in federal court.
The penalties for federal credit card fraud are generally harsher than California state penalties. Under federal law, a conviction for credit card fraud can result in up to 20 years in a federal penitentiary.
Credit Card Fraud Defenses
There are a number of possible defenses available to someone charged with credit card fraud. In some cases, use of another person's credit card could be a mistake. For example, if your mother gave you her credit card to purchase something for the store, you may have forgotten the card was in your wallet. Later, you accidentally use the card believing it to be your own. It may be a defense to credit card fraud charges because you did not intend to defraud anyone.
If the police found evidence of credit card fraud through an illegal search, that evidence may be able to be suppressed in court. Illegally gathered evidence may be subject to a motion to suppress evidence court filing. If the prosecutor cannot use evidence of the illegal search, the prosecutor may not have enough evidence to bring a case against the defendant.
Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney
Lynn Gorelick has more than 30 years of criminal defense experience and understands the penalties involved with criminal fraud charges. She understands how to approach the individual facts of each case for the greatest chance of success, keeping her clients out of jail and maintaining a clean record. If you are facing credit card fraud charges anywhere in Contra Costa County or Alameda County, contact Lynn Gorelick, who understands you do not have to plead guilty just because you were arrested.