In California, there are laws in place that make it illegal to perform several activities with access cards such as debit and credit cards as well as their respective accounts. Some of these activities include counterfeiting or forgery and can happen if a person alters access to a particular card. Using a credit card that does not belong to you is also a crime. Many people commit Credit Card Fraud without even realizing it. There is a lot that is involved in Credit Card Fraud that could be confusing to an ordinary person. That is why The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney is here. Through our professional legal services, you can understand Credit Card Fraud better and also obtain legal defense and advice if you are facing charges related to Credit Card Fraud.
The Legal Definition of Credit Card Fraud
The Credit Card Fraud Law makes it illegal for any person who is deceptively using a credit card or for any person to use another person’s credit card without their authorization, to steal money, or pay for goods or services. The law also makes it illegal for a person to forge or counterfeit a credit card for any reason. The laws against Credit Card Fraud have been enacted in the different levels of government and enforced by several government agencies, including the US Secret Service and the local police department.
The state of California has not been left out of the states that are fighting Credit Card Fraud and related offenses. The state laws against Credit Card Fraud are aimed at stopping people who use other people’s credit cards without authorization, even when they know too well that the owner of the credit card has not given consent. In California, using or attempting to use a credit card that has expired or one that has been revoked is categorized under Credit Card Fraud as well.
Types of Crimes Categorized as Credit Card Fraud
Credit Card Fraud is not just one type of crime; it is a general term that is used to refer to several fraudulent offenses, all of which are related to the use of payment cards such as debit and credit cards. Anything any person does to source funds in a transaction using a Credit Card Fraudulently will be termed as Credit Card Fraud. This type of crime is not new in California. The unfortunate part is that the schemes used by defrauders to gain control of another person’s credit card are evolving as the days go by. This is because offenders want to evade law enforcement.
The most common crimes under Credit Card Fraud can be categorized into:
- Card present crimes
- Card not present crimes
Card present crimes are those that happen when a person physically loses their credit card. When a defrauder finds a lost credit card, they may use certain schemes to be able to access its account. This could be through applying for a new credit card in the name of the stolen one or changing the physical address of the card’s owner, then requesting a card replacement. When this works, the defrauder will have total possession of the card and can always make purchases and cash withdrawals at will.
Other types of Credit Card Fraud crimes fall under the other category of card not present. Just as its name suggests, the defrauder does not need the card to commit the fraud. There is a lot that can be done even without physical access to a credit card. The defrauder may, for instance, decide to record the credit card numbers of their victim or any other identifiable information, and then use that information online or over the phone, to gain access to their victim’s account.
The latter types of Credit Card Fraud are hard to detect because they could be done even when the victim is so many miles away from the defrauder. Some of these crimes involve placing skimming machines on ATMs or gas terminals to capture credit card information for possible victims. It is hard for customers to notice these devices, and by the time a victim raises the alarm about money lost through their cards, so many victims would have lost their money the same way.
Another way through which this crime happens is through phishing websites. There are fake websites all over the internet, which are built just the same way as legitimate sites by trustworthy companies. Many people end up entrusting their financial information in these sites, without knowing that they are providing details to defrauders who will strike when they least expect. As soon as a user provides their details and credit card information in these sites, scammers will be waiting to gain access to their accounts.
Key Provisions of Credit Card Fraud Laws in California
Section 484 of the CA Penal Code makes it illegal for any person to feloniously steal, carry, take, drive away, or lead another person’s property by pretense or false representation. According to this statute, defrauding another person of their money, real/personal property, or labor is punishable by law.
The fifth section of this law, which is Section 484e makes it illegal for any person to use another person’s access card to sell or transfer money, intending to defraud the card owner. This is the part of the law that covers the use of stolen access cards. If you are found guilty of acquiring, transferring, selling, possessing an access card, or card data of a person without their approval to commit fraud, you will be charged under this law. The crime here is grand theft as per California statutes and can attract heavier penalties than those of ordinary theft.
Section 484f of the same law makes it illegal for any person to design a new card, duplicate an existing one, emboss or alter the original card to create a new, to defraud a credit card user. This is the section of the law that covers the forging of the credit card data. The law will be used to charge anyone that is found guilty of changing an existing access card, creating a counterfeit credit card, or writing another person’s name in a transaction made with the credit card without their consent.
Section 484g makes it illegal for a person to use an altered or forged access card with the intent of defrauding another person. If a person uses a credit card that they know too well that it is expired, forged or has been revoked to acquire money or pay for goods or services, without the consent of the card owner, they might be charged with Credit Card Fraud. The law is used to charge and convict people who have been found guilty of knowingly using credit cards or credit card accounts that are not valid.
Section 484h of the same law covers fraudulent use of a credit card or credit card information by a seller. If as a retailer you have accepted payments made through a stolen, revoked, expired or forged credit card, knowing too well that the card is invalid, you will be guilty of Credit Card Fraud. The same law will be used to charge any retailer who provides a false proof of transaction to be paid for goods or services when in actual sense, no such a transaction happened.
Section 484i covers the use of counterfeit credit cards. This section of the Credit Card Fraud law makes it an offense for a person to manufacture or possess a counterfeit credit card. The same law is used to charge people found guilty of possessing the machinery believed to produce or traffic fake credit cards.
Finally, there is Section 484j, the part of the law that covers the publishing of credit card data. The law is used to charge people who have been found guilty of knowingly sharing credit card information from other people, including passwords and PINs, to steal from a person or an entity.
In that case, if you used another person’s access card without their consent, or obtained and kept an access card using another person’s details, you will be accused and arrested of Credit Card Fraud and can, therefore, face severe consequences if found guilty of the offense.
Generally, a Credit Card Fraud crime is prosecuted as theft in California, and so, the penalties that an offender gets, as well as the sentencing is what has been set by the state’s laws to punish petty and grand theft. The exact punishment an offender will get will, therefore, be determined by the conviction they get; whether it is petty theft or grand theft.
In the state of California, Credit Card Fraud is generally a wobbler, and this means that it is a crime that can be treated as either a misdemeanor or a felony. The type of charge an offender gets is determined by the type of Credit Card Fraud they committed and the amount of money they defrauded the victim.
If the offense is convicted as a felony, the accused could receive a prison sentence for a period not exceeding three years. If, on the other hand, the defendant had stolen credit cards, but they did not use the cards to commit a crime, the offense may not be as serious and could only be punishable by a six-month jail term.
Forging access card information, contrary to Section 484f of the California Penal Code is also a wobbler offense. Forgery is generally a serious offense in California, which is punishable with a maximum of three years in state prison.
Fraudulently using a credit card is treated as a petty theft offense and is, therefore, a misdemeanor in the state. The punishments you get for this offense is determined by the amount of money you defrauded your victim. If the worth of goods obtained was $950 or lower, you might only get a jail term of six months. If the value of money or goods obtained were more than $950, the offense would be a grand theft offense, which is a wobbler in the state. A grand theft crime can put you in state prison for three years.
If a person is found in possession of a blank credit card and is believed to have the intention of turning it into a fake, the charge will be a misdemeanor, punishable with at least six months in prison. If the offender has altered credit cards, or they are found in possession of equipment used in counterfeiting credit cards, the crime will be a wobbler and could attract a three-year term in state prison.
Lastly, if you were found guilty of publishing other people’s credit card information to defraud the owners, you may face a jail term for a period of up to six months.
Generally, Credit Card Fraud in the state will be punished depending on the exact circumstances of the offense. This means that offenders can receive varying punishments, even if they are facing similar charges.
A felony credit card offense will attract a prison term of between 16 months and three years in county jail. In fine, you could pay a maximum amount of $10000. A misdemeanor will send you to the county jail for a maximum of one year, and a fine of up to $1000.
If the crime qualifies to be grand theft, you get a felony sentence, but if the crime is petty theft, you are charged with a misdemeanor.
Note that the offender may also be required to participate in Credit Card Fraud and forgery activities in addition to their sentence. Again, a persecutor can pronounce a heavier sentence if the offender has prior convictions of the same or similar crimes.
Statutes of Limitations for Credit Card Fraud
Statutes of limitations are the period a victim has to report Credit Card Fraud or similar activities in their accounts. In California, this is usually seven years. It is, however, important to note that there are certain situations in which the period is either suspended or tolled. If for instance, you are out of the state, you could face fraud charges for a much longer time. The reason why there is a statute of limitations law is to make it impossible for a person to be prosecuted for an alleged offense so many years when the evidence and witnesses, who could have exonerated him/her of the charges, are no longer available.
Possible Defenses for Credit Card Fraud
Credit Card Fraud is one of the most serious white-collar crimes in the state today. Punishments can be very severe, and a conviction could leave a mark on your criminal record, affecting so many aspects of your life. If therefore, you are facing a fraud charge, you need the help and support of a professionally trained and experienced criminal defense attorney. If you are a first-time offender, the experience could be quite terrifying, but with an experienced attorney by your side, you may be able to go through the process with minimal issues and possibly have your charges reduced or dropped.
There are several defense strategies than an experienced criminal defense attorney can employ to help with your case:
No intention to commit fraud
Just like in other fraud cases, the main element of this crime is the intent to defraud another person. If the court does not find you with the intent to defraud, then you will not be found guilty of the offense. This defense will work well for a person who inadvertently uses an expired or canceled credit card to pay for items or services. Such a person may not be found with the intent to defraud and will therefore not be criminally liable for committing Credit Card Fraud offense.
Lack of sufficient evidence
This is a straightforward defense strategy to use, especially in a case where the prosecutor does not have sufficient evidence to convict you of the crime. This will work even for a person that is already guilty of the offense. If for instance, you are facing fraud charges for using a revoked credit card, the prosecutor must provide adequate evidence that you knew the credit card had been revoked, yet you went ahead to use it. If the evidence is not enough, your smart attorney may use that to demand for your charges to be dropped.
A case of mistaken identity
People are mistakenly accused of crimes they have not committed every day. Again, with a case such as this, it is easy to claim that you are being mistaken for the real perpetrator even if you are the guilty party. This is because, just like in many other fraud cases, the alleged fraudulent activity does not take place in the limelight, where there could be witnesses. In most cases, Credit Card Fraud happens behind the scenes; therefore, it may be hard even for the prosecutor to point at the real perpetrator. This is, therefore, a very effective defense for a crime such as this.
Credit Card Fraud and Related Offenses
There are several offenses in the state of California that are related to Credit Card Fraud. Some of these are forgery, theft, grand theft, petty theft, among others. In addition to these, there are crimes that prosecutors can file in lieu or connection with Credit Card Fraud charges. These are:
This is a crime committed when a person illegally uses another person’s data to commit fraud. When an offender uses another person’s credit card information, without the person’s consent, they may face an additional charge of identity theft on top of the original Credit Card Fraud charge. In California, identity theft is a federal offense and could be punished with heavy fines and a prison term for a maximum of 25 years.
Internet fraud happens when any fraud is committed over the internet, just as its name suggests. If any of the above Credit Card Fraud is committed via the internet, it qualifies as internet fraud too and so will be punishable as so. What this means is that in addition to the stated penalties for Credit Card Fraud, you will also face a federal charge for internet fraud. Internet fraud can take several forms, including:
- Making an online purchase using someone’s credit card details without their authorization
- Advertising your fraudulent credit card activities online, for instance, selling equipment for forging credit cards online
- Selling items online that have been bought using a stolen or forged credit card
Note that a federal offense will attract more substantial fines and a lengthy prison sentence.
The crime of burglary is committed if a person enters a building or any other structure intending to commit a crime such as petty theft or felony. If therefore, you entered a shop intending to make purchases using a stolen or fake credit card, you will have violated the California burglary law, as well as the state’s Credit Card Fraud law. This means that you will be charged with two offenses. A burglary offense that was committed alongside a Credit Card Fraud offense is usually a wobbler. If you get a felony charge, you might receive the following sentence:
- Time in a county jail for 16 months, two or up to three years
- A fine of up to $10000
Mail theft offense occurs when a person steals or takes someone else’s mail from their mailbox, mail carrier, or post office without authorization. If the Credit Card Fraud charges you are facing are related to obtaining credit card information from a person’s stolen mail, you will face both mail theft and fraud charges.
Find a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
If you are under investigation for Credit Card Fraud, or someone you know is facing these charges, it is crucial to seek the help of professional attorneys from The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney. Our competent and experienced attorneys will be willing to take you through the process, offer advice, and discuss with you several options you have for a successful outcome. Call us at 310-564-2605 and let us plan how we can effectively fight the accusations for reduced penalties or to have the charges dropped altogether.