Vista Criminal Attorney Law Firm is a widely well reputed law firm offering tailored services in criminal defense. We serve the Vista area and its surrounding areas within the State of California.

Credit card fraud is a pretty serious offense that can be complex to understand and regrettably, anyone not meaning ill intent could find themselves caught up with these charges. However, do not worry. At Vista Criminal Attorney, we understand the intricacies of this crime and what it takes to defend you. In the following article, we will elaborate on credit card fraud and the possible strategies that our defense team might consider to ensure you or your loved ones are free from the harsh penalties that you might be facing.

What is Credit Card Fraud?

Credit cards fraud takes place when a person intentionally uses or attempts to use a credit card, or the information therein such as credit card account number, owner’s names or account billing information in such a way that, they deceive another person or entity into incurring a loss while they receive unmerited gain.

Credit cards and debit cards can be collectively referred to as ‘Access cards’. They are all viewed as the same thing under the California credit card fraud Laws, and hence, the names ‘credit card’ and ‘access card’ can be used interchangeably.

Any kind of fraudulent conduct that involves credit card use is strongly prohibited by the California Penal Code, section 484, and subsections e through to j. These laws punish specific crimes involving credit card use and bar forgery, altering, stealing, and counterfeiting credit cards. Transfer of access card or credit card account information to unauthorized persons for own personal gain is also criminalized.

For one to be deemed as guilty the prosecution must establish and prove the intent to commit fraud and hence, the defendant’s actions must have been intentional. It is not a must that they result in a loss on the victim’s side and undeserved gain to the defendant.

Federal Credit Card Fraud

The federal government considers credit card fraud as any fraudulent act, committed with the use of a credit card against a government institution, government property or across state lines. Title 18 of the United States Code, section 1029 prohibits this and renders severe punishment to offenders than state laws.

You could be charged with federal credit card fraud and, still face California courts for the same offenses depending on the facts of the crime. If convicted of federal credit card fraud, you face significant fines and jail time not exceeding 20 years.

California Credit Card Fraud

The California Penal Code Section 484 (e), 484 (f), 484 (g), 484 (h), 484 (i), and 484 (j) institutes specific laws, each with specific penalties against credit card fraud as discussed below.

  1. California Penal Code Section 484 (e) PC – Stolen Credit Cards

This section punishes the illegal custody of a credit card or an access card. One contravenes this law if they sell, transfer, or acquire a credit card/debit card, or the account information in the credit card or debit card, without the cardholder’s authority or consent. It matters not whether one actually succeeded in committing fraud with the card but, that they intended to do so.

This means that you could be charged for possessing a credit card that was reported lost and canceled by the real owner, should you be caught with it without the owner’s consent. It is not a must that the card is valid at the time of arrest, nor is it a must for you committed fraud with it or a bill sent to the card owner.

Depending on the case particulars or facts and the defendant’s criminal records, the charges may be classified as a misdemeanor or a felony. This situation where a prosecutor reserves the right to charge an offense as a misdemeanor or a felony is known as a wobbler.

The misdemeanor is prosecutable by a thousand dollar ($1000) fine or a county jail term of not more than 6 months or both, while a felony is penalized by probation and up to one (1) year county jail term, or sixteen (16) months or two (2) to (3) years in a county jail and or, up to ten thousand dollars ($10000) fine. The misdemeanor is categorized as petty theft and the felony grand theft.

If one does not actually make use of the access card despite being in possession of it and harboring the intent to use it, it is considered a misdemeanor as guided by the laws in California, and is penalized by up to 6 months in a county jail and or up to a thousand dollars ($1000)

  1. California Penal Code Section 484 (f) PC – Forging Credit Card Information

This statute is concerned with forgery of access cards. Simply put, in California under Penal Code 470 PC, forgery is said to have occurred when you intentionally fake, alter, counterfeit and present as genuine a credit card for own benefit. Signing another person’s particulars without their consent in a credit or debit card transaction is also a forgery.

It is penalized as grand theft or petty theft and is also a wobbler. It inherits similar penalties as those of section 484 (e) above. Violations of Section 484 (f) PC are punished under California's forgery laws, Penal Code 470 PC.

  1. California Penal Code 484 (g) PC - Fraudulent Use of an Access Card or Account Information

If a person intentionally defrauds others using an access card that has been altered, obtained, or retained, contrary to Sections 484 (e) or 484 (f), or a credit card which they know is expired or revoked then, they have violated the Penal Code 484 (g) PC. The penalty for this crime depends on the value of the goods and services accepted. This offense is seen as a grand theft if this value exceeds nine hundred and fifty dollars ($950), in any six consecutive months, and petty theft, if the amount is less than nine hundred and fifty dollars ($950).

  1. California Penal Code 484 (h) PC – Retailer Credit Card Fraud

A retailer is said to have violated the California penal code 484 (h) PC if they knowingly accept a forged, altered, faked or stolen credit card as payment for goods or services offered. They are also legally answerable if they were to avail forged receipts from credit card transactions as evidence of goods or services offered, while in reality, no such transactions occurred.

Offenses under this law are punishable in a similar manner as those of penal code 484 (g) PC above. Thus, if the value of the goods and services involved is above nine hundred and fifty dollars ($950), then the offense is considered grand theft. Amounts below nine fifty dollars ($950) constitute a petty theft charge.

  1. California Penal Code 484 (i) PC - Counterfeiting Credit Cards

You could be held answerable to the offense of breaching the California Penal Code 484 (i) PC if you;

  • Have in your possession an incomplete access card, with the intention to finish it off without the permission of the issuing company. This is considered a misdemeanor and is punishable by six months in the county jail, or a fine of up to a thousand dollars ($1000) or both fine and jail term.

  • Alter, make, change or modify an access card or the information recorded therein, with the intent to defraud. You could be charged with the California crime of forgery, under the Penal Code 470 PC.

  • Allow another person to change or make adjustments to the data recorded in the credit card, or

  • Create, design, possess, distribute or traffic counterfeit credit cards, or machines and equipment used to make credit cards, or sell unfinished credit cards knowing that they will be used to make illegal access cards. You could face penalties of up to six months in jail and, or a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1000) if the offense is charged as a misdemeanor and sixteen months or two(2) to three (3) years in a county jail or a ten thousand dollar fine.
  1. California Penal Code 484 (j) PC – Publishing Credit Card Information

Under the California Penal Code 484 (j) PC, it is illegal to publish any information regarding an access card account without the owner’s consent, with the intent to commit fraud. Which is this information? It includes personal details, personal identification number, password, and bank account information. Publishing as used here means to communicate the information by word of mouth, through the electronic media or by writing.

Illegal publishing of credit card account information is considered a misdemeanor crime and is thus charged as such, punishable by not more than six months in jail and up to a thousand dollars ($1000) in fines.

What Legal Defenses are Available for California Credit Card Fraud Charges

A conviction on credit card fraud will leave a criminal record on your profile and hence, reduce your chances of getting hired for a job and negatively affect your immigration status. It could also leave a dent on your driving license record. It is therefore important to contact Vista Criminal Attorney Law Firm immediately you are placed under investigations for credit card fraud.

The prosecution must prove the following elements of the crime in order to obtain a conviction on credit card fraud:

  • That the defendant created, made, had in their possession, used or had the intentions to use a fraudulent credit card or account information.
  • That the defendant did not have the permission from the legitimate owner to use their credit card or account information.
  • That the defendant was aware that the card was invalid, stolen or fake and that the owner of the card knew it had insufficient funds to buy goods or pay for services.
  • That the defendant had the intentions to defraud another of their goods or services, by gaining them illegally, while the rightful owner suffers a loss.

Here are some of the possible defenses that our zealous attorneys could put forward, to obtain a not guilty verdict on credit card fraud charges.

  1. Lack of Intentions to Defraud – This is the most important element that a prosecutor should thoroughly prove to get a conviction on this case. There are instances where the defendant had no ill intent to commit fraud. For example, they might have picked up a similar card belonging to their roommate, mistaking it to belong to them and tried to use it in a grocery store. Here, a defendant had no motive to defraud their roommate or the store’s owner, and thus, they cannot be found to be guilty of the crime of credit card fraud.
  1. Lack of Sufficient Evidence - The prosecutor is bound by law to prove beyond doubt the above elements of the crime, in order to gain a conviction. In most cases, they are unable to accomplish this, especially when they face a determined and relentless attorney. For example, you might have used a revoked card at a gas station; therefore, you get arrested and charged. The prosecution has to establish that indeed, you had received prior notice of your card’s revocation before trying to use it. Otherwise, you cannot be held liable for fraudulently attempting to use a credit card under penal code 484 (g) PC.
  1. Mistaken Identity or False Accusation – It is the objective of fraudsters to remain behind the scenes while committing fraudulent activity. Thus, this opens up avenues where innocent persons, find themselves facing credit card charges while they have never even thought of such stuff. These suggest clear cases of mistaken identity. Malicious people are all around us and thus, you could be accused of breaking the California Penal Code 484 Pc by an acquaintance that has scores to settle with you. This is where we come in, to help you prove your innocence in court.

Offenses Related to Credit Card Fraud

There are offenses that are closely connected to credit card fraud such as forgery, grand theft, and petty theft. We have already elaborated on their charges and the accompanying penalties they attract. There are other crimes that a prosecutor might decide to file alongside or in place of check fraud charges. Some include:

  • Identity Theft

By using another person’s information, including credit card details or associated account information without their consent to especially to commit a fraud, you might find yourself facing state and or federal identity theft charges which attract serious fines and up to 25 years behind bars.

  • Internet Fraud

If anyone commits a fraud online using a credit card, they could find themselves facing federal internet fraud charges as well as charges for credit card fraud. This is quite rampant today, especially due to the growth of online commerce. Online purchases using unauthorized credit card could land you in jail, serving extended terms or could have you pay hefty fines since this is a federal offense.

  • Burglary Charges

Under the California Penal Code 459 PC, if anyone gains illegal entry into a building to steal a credit card or with the intent of fraudulently using a credit card, they could be arrested and charged with burglary charges in addition to check fraud charges. They could face up to 6 months locked up, with a fine of up to a thousand dollars if charged with misdemeanor burglary and 16 months, 2 to 3 years in county jail and or a $10000 fine in pursuant to California felony burglary charges.

  • Elderly Abuse Charges

In regards to the penal code 368 PC, the California code protecting elderly people from emotional, physical or financial abuse, a person who fraudulently gains undeservedly by using an elder’s credit card, or attempting to use it or the information contained in it without their consent, is said to have committed an elder abuse crime in addition to credit card fraud charges. An elder is legally considered to be a person aged 65 years and above. Elder abuse is a wobbler and could be charged as a felony attracting 3-4 years maximum imprisonment, or as a misdemeanor, attracting a $1000-$6000 in fines.

  • Conspiracy to Commit a Crime Charges

If two or more persons agree to engage in credit card fraud, then they could additionally face charges for conspiracy to commit a crime. They could be a retailer agreeing with another to sell goods or services while they know that the card being used is stolen or forged, or a bank employee, conspiring with outsiders to steal credit card information which they can use to make counterfeit cards.

  • The California Penal Code 182 PC – Conspiracy Laws prohibit such actions. The accused could face Conspiracy Charges together with check fraud charges. The crimes are treated as wobblers, that is a felony or misdemeanor and attract similar sentences and fines as other such other charges.
  • Theft Charges

The California Penal Code 530.5 (e) PC prohibits people from intentionally and illegally taking other peoples parcels from their mailboxes, post office or mail carriers without the owner’s consent. Access cards are transported through the by the US Postal Service from issuing companies to applicants mailboxes. If the defendant obtained the credit card from the mail system, then they could face mail theft charges which are punished as a misdemeanor, with maximum jail time of one (1) year in a county facility.

Find a Vista Criminal Attorney Specializing in Credit Card Fraud Near Me

As we have elaborated, a credit card fraud charge is a serious crime which attracts hefty penalties and could lead to a negative impact on your record. Our attorneys at Vista Criminal Attorney Law Firm are experienced, determined and ready to offer skillful representation against these charges. Call our Vista criminal lawyer at 760-691-1551 and lets us be your peace of mind.