California law makes it a crime for anyone to use a debit or credit card to fraudulently obtain goods and services. Several circumstances constitute credit card fraud, including forgery of a credit card, stealing another person's credit card, credit card fraud by retailers, and counterfeiting credit card information, among others.
Depending on the specific actions that gave rise to your credit card fraud charges and the amount you defrauded or intended to defraud, you could be charged with a felony or a misdemeanor. A conviction for credit card fraud attracts serious legal consequences, including incarceration and fines. Additionally, you will have a criminal record that is difficult to shake off.
If you face charges for credit card fraud, you will require the guidance of a competent attorney to navigate the case. At California Criminal Lawyer Group, we offer expert legal guidance to clients battling credit card fraud charges in Anaheim, CA.
Overview of Credit Card Fraud
California law criminalizes any form of credit or debit card fraud. Fraud is any activity where a person attempts to gain undeserving benefits and causes a loss to another person. An attempt to obtain, sell, or transfer another person's credit card information or bank account attached to the credit card is met with an arrest and criminal charges.
There are several forms of credit card fraud, including the following:
Penal Code 484(e)
You could be arrested and charged under California PC 484(e) if you steal another person's credit or debit card. Additionally, obtaining a person's credit card information will attract these charges.
You will only be found guilty of stealing credit card information after the prosecutor proves the following elements:
- You acquired, sold, or transferred a credit or debit card without the owner's consent.
- You retained possession of another person's credit card or credit card information.
- You acted without fraudulent intent. Your intention when acquiring credit card information must be clear to establish your guilt under this statute. In this case, fraudulent intent means that you planned to gain financially from your actions or cause loss to the card owner.
California PC 484(f)
California PC 484(f) criminalizes the forgery of the credit card information. You forge a credit card when you engage in any of the following activities:
- You alter a credit card or debit card information.
- You counterfeit or create a face debit or credit card.
- You sign another person's name on a credit or debit card transaction without the cardholder's consent.
California PC 484(g)
You violate PC 484(g) when you use a debit or credit card to obtain goods or services with the knowledge that the card is forged, invalid, or fake. Like other forms of credit card fraud, you will only be convicted of fraudulent use of a credit card if you used the card to defraud another person. If you did not know the fake or invalid nature of the credit card, you could not be found guilty of the crime.
Penal Code 484(h)
Retailer credit card fraud under PC 484(h) occurs when a merchant runs a debit or credit card in a way that defrauds the customer. A retailer can be accused of credit card fraud under this statute if they engage in these acts:
- Furnish a service or goods to someone who presents a fake or forged credit card.
- Presents fraudulent evidence of a credit card transaction to receive undeserving payment.
The value of property or money involved in the crime dictates how retailer credit card fraud will be charged.
Penal Code 484(i)
If you counterfeit a credit card or make machinery used to make false credit cards, you could be charged with fraud under Penal Code 484(i). Before you face a conviction under this statute, the prosecuting attorney must prove these elements:
- You possessed an incomplete credit card intending to complete it without the owner's consent. A credit card is considered incomplete when it lacks a bank logo.
- You modified the contents of a credit card with fraudulent intent.
- You allowed or facilitated another person to forge the credit card.
- You manufactured, trafficked, or distributed machinery used to make counterfeit credit cards.
Penal Code 484(j)
California PC 484(j) seeks to punish individuals who publish credit card information with the intent to use it fraudulently. The publication of any of the following information meets the definition of this offense:
- Number code of a credit card. Whether or not the card is valid will not affect your case.
- Personal identification information of the credit card holder.
- Bank account number associated with a specific credit card.
Publishing information about a credit card could be done through the telephone, writing, a computer network, or television.
Sentencing for Credit Card Fraud in California
Credit card fraud can potentially cause extreme financial losses to a cardholder. Often, the punishment you face and the nature of your charges depend on the statute under which you are charged. For most credit card offenses, your charges will fall under grand theft or petty theft.
The value of the property you purchased with a stolen credit card or the amount of loss you caused a victim by exposing their credit card information will dictate how the prosecution moves forward with your charges. Violation of Penal Codes 484(h), 484(i), and 484(j) are wobblers.
If using a fake or falsified card causes a loss that does not exceed $950, you will be charged with petty theft. As a misdemeanor, credit card fraud will attract a six-month jail sentence and a fine not exceeding $1,000.
However, if you receive items worth more than $950 using a fake credit card, your actions will attract grand theft charges. Under California PC 487, grand theft is a wobbler. Felony grand theft is punishable by three years in prison. In this case, the court will impose a one-year jail sentence for a misdemeanor conviction.
Sometimes, the court can offer probation as an alternative to incarceration. In this case, you will spend part of your sentence performing community service. You can be sent to probation for a felony or misdemeanor conviction. Probation lasts one to five years, depending on the nature of your charges.
Immigration Consequences of a Credit Card Fraud Conviction
In addition to incarceration and fines, your immigration status is at risk when you face charges for credit card fraud in California. The immigration law states that crimes of moral turpitude and aggravated felonies can attract deportation or inadmissibility. Depending on the circumstances of your case and your criminal history, credit card fraud can be charged as a felony.
Being deported from the United States means forced removal, which causes you to leave your life and loved ones behind. Inadmissibility, on the other hand, means that when you leave, you cannot return. If you face charges for credit card fraud, you must aggressively fight the charge to avoid negative immigration consequences.
Collateral Consequences of a Credit Card Fraud Conviction
The consequences of a conviction for different forms of credit card fraud go beyond incarceration and fines. Your conviction will be entered on your criminal record, which will remain until you attempt to expunge or seal it. Some ways the conviction can impact your life include:
- Difficulty obtaining a job. Before recruitment, most employers will perform background checks on potential employees. Having a felony or misdemeanor theft crime on your record could be used as a basis to discriminate against you.
- Challenge retaining your current job. If you already have a job, you risk losing the job following an arrest and conviction for credit card fraud.
- Loss of a professional business license. Some professions require a license to operate. After your arrest and conviction, the professional body responsible for issuing and renewing your license will be notified. After a disciplinary meeting, the licensing body can suspend or revoke your practice license.
- Difficulty in acceptance to colleges or universities. With a credit card fraud conviction, you could find it difficult to get into a good college or receive government funding to further your education.
Defense Against Credit Card Fraud Charges
If you or your loved one has been accused of credit card fraud, you can use these defenses to fight the charges:
No Willful Act
Before you face a conviction for any credit card fraud offense, the prosecuting attorney must prove that you acted willfully. Your actions are considered willful if you engaged in the criminal act deliberately. You can fight your charges by arguing that your actions were accidental.
For example, if you wish to send your credit card information to a loved one or friend, it is not uncommon to miss a digit and send the wrong information. Using the information could be reported as an attempt to commit credit card fraud. A skilled criminal attorney will help you explain away the mistake and avoid a conviction.
No Fraudulent Intent
A fraudulent intent is an intention to deceive or trick another person. The victim then relies on the false information you provide, and you deprive them of valuable property. Your intent when forging credit cards or stealing information must be clear to obtain a conviction.
For example, an attempt to use an expired credit card without knowing it was expired does not produce the fraudulent intent necessary to establish guilt for credit card fraud.
The prosecution must establish all the elements of a crime before securing a conviction for credit card fraud against you. Mostly, the prosecutor will use physical evidence, circumstantial evidence, and witness testimony to support their allegations against you. Your attorney can help you fight the charges by creating doubt in the testimony presented against you. Without sufficient evidence, you will be convicted for a lesser offense or acquitted.
You don't have to succeed in defrauding another person to be charged with and convicted of credit card fraud. For this reason, it is common to be falsely accused of this offense. A person with whom you have a strained relationship can give false testimony against you for revenge.
A skilled criminal attorney can investigate the facts of your case and interview various people to assist in uncovering the false allegation scheme.
A person who commits credit card fraud could be hidden behind a computer or from the victims of credit card fraud. It is not uncommon for a person mistakenly identify you as the perpetrator of the crime. Most cases of credit card fraud are based on circumstantial evidence, which is easy to dispute.
One of the ways through which you can beat your criminal case using the argument of mistaken identification is by offering an alibi of the time when the crime was committed. If you can prove to the court that you were not around the crime scene, your case could be dismissed.
Illegal Search and Seizure
When you are accused of credit card fraud schemes like stealing or selling credit card information, law enforcement officers will quickly show up at your home or office for a search and seizure of your devices. However, California law allows each citizen a right against illegal search and seizure.
A search is considered illegal when there is no warrant or the search goes beyond the warrant's scope. If you are a victim of an illegal search by the police, you can petition the court to have the evidence collected in the unlawful search thrown out of your case. This will weaken the prosecution's case and improve your chances of avoiding conviction.
Crimes Related to Credit Card Fraud in California
Prosecutors in California file the harshest charge that the evidence collected against you can support. Therefore, it is possible to be charged with multiple crimes with the hope that one will lead to a conviction. The following related offenses can be brought instead of or alongside credit card fraud:
Under California Penal Code 530.5, identity theft involves using another person's identification information for fraudulent purposes. The elements of crime used to establish your guilt under this statute include:
- You willfully obtained another person's identifying information for unlawful purposes.
- You took another person's identifying information.
- You sold or transferred identification information without the card owner's consent.
If the information in question relates to a credit or credit card, you could be charged with credit card fraud and identity theft. A violation of California PC 530.5 is a wobbler. The offense can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony based on the factors of your case.
As a felony, the crime attracts a sentence of sixteen months, two years, or three years. Additionally, the court could impose a fine that does not exceed $10,000. If you are charged with felony identity theft, you risk spending a year in county jail.
California Penal Code 368 makes it a crime to embezzle or fraudulently take away money or property from a person over the age of sixty-five. Mismanagement of an elder's money could also attract an arrest and charges under this statute. Common acts that could attract Penal Code 368 charges include:
- Failure to pay the elder's bill you are tasked with covering.
- Using money meant for the elder's personal needs for other purposes.
- Making unauthorized payments or withdrawals from the elders' accounts.
The nature of the charges and penalties you face after a conviction for senior financial fraud varies depending on the amount stolen. If the money or property is worth more than $950, you will face a felony conviction punishable by felony probation, a maximum of four years in prison, and a $10,000 fine.
However, you will face a misdemeanor conviction if the property value or money is less than $850. A misdemeanor PC 368 is punishable by a one-year jail sentence and a maximum fine of $1,000. With the help of your defense lawyer, you can negotiate with the prosecution to have a probation sentence instead of jail.
You will be arrested and charged with burglary if you enter a commercial structure or residential building with the intent to commit theft or a felony crime. The prosecutor must prove the elements to obtain a conviction for burglary in California:
- You entered a room, building, or locked car.
- You entered the structure or vehicle with the intent to commit theft or a felony.
- The value of the property you intended to steal is $950 or more.
Depending on the nature of the building you entered, your crime could be charged as a first-, second-, or third-degree burglary. A conviction for first-degree burglary arises when you enter a residential building and is charged as a felony punishable by up to six years in prison and a fine of $10,000.
Second-degree burglary is a wobbler. As a felony, the crime may cause you to spend up to three years in prison and pay fines of up to $10,000. A misdemeanor, on the other hand, will attract a one-year jail sentence.
Unauthorized Computer Access
Under CPC 502, you commit a crime of unauthorized internet access when you access another person's data, computer network, or software without their consent. In addition to proving your access without permission from the owner, the prosecutor must prove that your actions were driven by an intent to defraud or cause harm to the other person.
If you access another person's computer to obtain their credit card information, you could be charged with unauthorized computer access and credit card fraud. A violation of CPC 502 is a misdemeanor. The prosecution can file felony or misdemeanor charges. When you are charged with a misdemeanor, your conviction will result in a one-year jail sentence and a $5,000 fine.
A felony conviction, on the other hand, attracts a prison sentence of three years and up to $10,000.
California PC 470 defines forgery as the falsification of a seal or signature on a document with fraudulent intent. If you falsify a signature on a credit card transaction, you could be charged with forgery instead of fraud. A defendant can be liable for forgery for engaging in the following acts:
- Signing another person's name without their approval.
- Forging another individual's signature or handwriting on a legal document.
- Falsifying a legal document.
In addition to proving these acts, the prosecutor must go further to establish that you intended to defraud another person. A fraudulent intent is an intention to lie or deceive another person for personal gain.
Forgery is a wobbler. Depending on your criminal history and the specific circumstances of your case, a felony forgery conviction attracts a sentence of sixteen months to three years. The court can send you on probation and impose a $10,000 fine.
You will only be charged with a misdemeanor under PC 470 if you forged a document and caused a loss of $950 or less. As a misdemeanor, the offense is punishable by a one-year jail sentence.
Find a Reliable Criminal Lawyer Near Me
Forging credit cards, stealing credit card information, and illegally publishing another person's information are some of the acts that will attract your arrest and charges for credit card fraud. California law treats credit card fraud as a wobbler. This means that the crime can attract felony or misdemeanor charges. Regardless of the nature of your charges, a conviction for this offense can have severe legal and collateral consequences.
Fortunately, all charges of credit card fraud are not strong enough to lead to a conviction. Therefore, if you face charges for credit card fraud in California, it would be best to act quickly and secure legal representation. Your lawyer will help you understand the magnitude of your case and guide you through securing the best possible outcome in your case.
At California Criminal Lawyer Group, we understand how a credit card fraud conviction could impact your life. We diligently formulate a solid defense against your case and help you avoid a conviction. We serve clients seeking legal representation to battle theft charges in Anaheim, CA. Contact us at 714-766-0965 to discuss your case.