Credit cards or the information on them are stolen every day. You can be charged under California’s credit card fraud laws found in Penal Code Sections 484(e-j) if you use someone else’s credit or debit card without their permission; if you alter or modify it; use it knowing it has been stolen, altered or cancelled; unlawfully give the stolen, revoked or altered card’s information to someone else; or if you use your own knowing it has been revoked, expired or has an insufficient balance.

The elements of this offense merely involve the above use along with a fraudulent intent, meaning you intended to illegally obtain the property or services of another person that resulted in an unfair loss to that person.

Stolen Credit Cards

You are in violation of Penal Code 484(e) if you steal or somehow obtain someone else’s credit or debit card or its information without consent.

It is irrelevant if you unlawfully possess another person’s card that is no longer valid so long as it once was valid at any other time.

Forging Card Information

Penal Code 484(f) prohibits you from altering, forging or creating a phony card or signing someone else’s name without their knowledge or consent

Fraudulent Use of a Card or Information

The fraudulent use of card or its content refers to using a card that has been revoked or cancelled, forged, altered or stolen to illegally obtain funds, property or services. This is found under Penal Code 484(g).

Retailer Fraud

California has a separate penal code section, PC 484(h) that punishes retailers who knowingly use forged, stolen or altered credit or debit cards to obtain funds or property. A retailer may also be guilty under California’s conspiracy laws by furnishing someone with property or funds when that person presents a card that the retailer knows to be forged, stolen or altered.

Counterfeiting

Under California Penal Code 484(i), counterfeiting is altering any part of the card such as the information found in the magnetic strip with the intent to defraud. In some cases, cards are found with incomplete information that the offender intended to complete with phony information.

Trafficking in counterfeit cards is a major industry in the U.S.

Publishing Card Information

By communicating to someone the contents or information found on someone else’s credit or debit card without their permission, you are violating Penal Code 484(j). The information communicated could be that person’s PIN, computer password, bank account number or credit card numbers.

Related Offenses

There are numerous offenses related to credit card crime including.

  • Forgery
  • Counterfeiting
  • Identify theft
  • Internet fraud
  • Conspiracy
  • Elder abuse
  • Burglary

Any of these crimes can involve use of an altered, stolen or revoked credit or debit card. Internet and identity fraud are also federal offenses. Surprisingly, you can be charged with burglary by using a stolen or modified credit card if you enter a structure such as a retail store with the intent to commit a felony, such as buying goods valued at more than $950 with the card.

Possible Defenses

  • Lack of intent

If you neglected to renew your card but used it believing it to be valid, you may not possess any fraudulent intent when you used it. You may also have used a friend’s card believing that you had your friend’s consent.

  • Lack of notice

A bank is required to give notice to debit card user that his or her account has been cancelled or the card has been revoked. If such notice was not given, then any use of the card is not considered fraudulent.

  • False accusations

You may have not been the person who used the card and were mistakenly identified by an eyewitness or photo image. Someone might have used your identity as well.

Degrees of the Offense

Credit card fraud is a crime of theft and comes under the state’s theft laws. It is a “wobbler” offense, meaning that the prosecution may charge the crime as a misdemeanor or felony depending on the value of the item, circumstances of the offense and if the offender possesses a criminal record.

Generally, it is a misdemeanor if the property taken is valued at $950 or less; otherwise, it is a felony. Some of the related offenses may be federal crimes as well such as internet fraud or identity fraud since it may involve interstate commerce.

Immigration Consequences

Under federal immigration law, if you are an alien or permanent resident and you commit a crime of moral turpitude such as credit card fraud, you may have serious immigration consequences. In some cases, you could face potential deportation and not be eligible for cancellation of removal relief.

Call the Law Offices of Ramiro J. Lluis

Facing a charge of credit card fraud or a related offense can result in serious prison time and have long range or permanent adverse consequences on your life. If you have been charged with fraud, call the Law Offices of Ramiro J. Lluis today for a free, confidential initial consultation at (213) 687-4412.