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Credit Card Fraud

The California PC 484 defines credit card fraud as the offense of forging, stealing or altering an access or credit card to obtain goods, money, or services to which you’re not legally entitled. Under California law, credit card fraud is a complex criminal offense, which authorities vigorously prosecute.

The offense may fall under grand theft or petty theft, depending on the money’s value. Credit card fraud accusations have serious consequences for businesses and individuals. If you’re convicted of credit card fraud, you may face hefty fines and jail time. If you're facing charges for credit card fraud in California, The Pasadena Criminal Attorney can help you come up with a convincing defense against your case.

What Credit Card Fraud Entails

Credit card fraud is a term widely used to describe using a debit card or credit card to buy or get financial gain illegally. Credit card fraud entails:

  • Account takeovers

  • Stealing a credit card

  • Card-not-present

  • Using a lost and found a credit card

  • Counterfeit cards

  • Fraudulent applications

  • Intercepting mailed cards

Account Takeover

Credit card fraudsters can use a victim’s personal information such as mother’s maiden name and home address to do credit card fraud. They may use the information to reach the victim’s bank or Credit Company, impersonating and claiming that the card has been stolen or lost. They may also claim that they have changed the addresses and request the card issuer to send them a new card. Therefore, most card issuers in California demand that applicants use a verbal password when calling them because of this type of fraud. This is the best way to help curb this type of fraud.

Stealing a Credit Card

You may be guilty of stealing a credit card if you obtain it from the victim’s pocket or wallet without the victim’s consent or knowledge. It can also occur when the victim forgets to zip up his or her bag in a crowd of people, and another person slips the victim’s wallet from the bag.


EMV technology has greatly reduced point-of-service fraud in California. However, according to payment experts, the card-not-present system of fraud is on the rise. Fraudsters don't require a physical credit card to use it fraudulently. The only requirement is basic information such as cardholders’ names and credit card numbers to commit online or mail order fraud.

Using a Lost and Found Credit Card

A credit card can fall out of a person’s pocket anywhere. A fraudster who gets the card could attempt to use it. Credit card issuers demand that victims report immediately if their card gets lost. If this step is taken, the chances of a fraudster doing damage to the balance are reduced.

Counterfeit Cards

After fraudulently getting credit card account information using a skimmer device, it’s easy for fraudsters to create and use a duplicate card to access a victim’s account. However, the use of chip-and-pin technology has dramatically reduced counterfeit card fraud in the U.S.

Fraudulent Applications

Fraudsters can apply for a new credit card in another person’s name. Using a victim’s social security number, date of birth, name, and other personal information, they can easily access the account balance.

Intercepting Mailed Cards- A new credit card can be stolen from the victim’s mailbox by fraudsters, even if credit card companies try to protect the cards in transit.

Elements of Credit Card Fraud

Under California law, certain factors must be evident for identity theft or a financial crime to qualify as credit card fraud. If the prosecutor accuses you of taking another person’s credit card, he/she must prove that:

  • You took the credit card from the control or possession of another person

  • The credit card owner did not consent to the taking

  • You intended to use the credit card

You may also face charges for committing credit card fraud if you receive a stolen credit card. In this case, the prosecutor must prove that:

  • You received a credit card

  • The credit card had previously been taken without the owner’s permission

  • You were aware that the credit card had been stolen

  • You intended to sell the card, use it, or transfer it to another person instead of the owner or card issuer.

If you retain a lost, mislaid, or mistakenly delivered financial transaction, you may face credit card fraud charges. The prosecutor must prove that:

  • You received a credit card.

  • The credit card was mislaid, lost, or delivered under a mistake regarding the owner's address.

  • You were aware that the credit card was mistakenly delivered, mislaid, or lost.

  • You retained the credit card with the intention of selling, using, or transferring it to another person instead of the owner.

If you buy a credit card, you may face charges of credit card fraud. The prosecutor must prove that:

  • You bought a credit card from another person instead of an authorized agent of credit cards or the card issuer.

  • You intended to use the credit card to commit fraud.

You could also violate the credit card fraud statute by selling a credit card. In this case, the prosecutor must prove that:

  • You sold a credit card to another person.

  • You were neither the credit card issuer nor an authorized agent of the credit card issuer.

Credit Card Fraud Investigation

The Federal Trade Commission, Law enforcement agencies, Banking, and credit agencies highly recommend immediate reporting of suspected credit card fraud in California. An investigation on credit card fraud begins when the cardholder reports to the local police of unauthorized use of his/her card by another person or theft.

Under California law, while reporting the suspicion, or the crime that an account has been compromised, the cardholder may have to sign a sworn statement showing the disputed transactions. The cardholder may also have to declare under Perjury Penalty that he/she is not responsible for the charges he/she is disputing.

The card issuer will review all disputed transactions during credit card investigation. At this time, the card issuer took a close look at where and when the transactions were made and if they required signing. If the transactions were signed, the signature would then be compared to the cardholder's signature appearing on his/her file. The transactions will be proved fraudulent if the signatures don't match. However, there are two key players in carrying out credit card fraud investigations in California. These are:

Federal Government investigators

Prosecution and prevention of credit card fraud in California are important in both The U.S Secret Service and The Federal Trade Commission (FTC). These two agencies provide legal support and oversight for corporate fraud investigations, locals, and the State. The agencies take action on frauds depending on the magnitude and amount of the offense. For instance, FTC takes criminal credit card activity complaints from the victims and refers them to consumer protection agencies. The consumer protection agencies then take the cases to law enforcement agencies for further legal action. However, the FTC may start credit card fraud investigations directly if it involves more than $ 2,000 fraud.

Professional Credit Card Fraud Investigators

Professional credit card fraud investigators deal with online transactions and electronic backtracking frauds. They are highly trained in financial security systems, forensic accounting, and information technology. They also employ high technology to open new accounts, make purchases, or establish whether the stolen card information has been used. These fraud investigators can minimize the card issuer or cardholder’s damage, stop using secondary accounts, or open the new accounts.

Penalties for Credit Card Fraud

Under California law PC sections 484e-484j, the crime of credit fraud may be committed in different ways. For instance, you could buy items from a store using a stolen credit card. Internet credit card fraud is also another growing trend. This involves the use of a stolen credit card to purchase or order goods sold on the internet. Other serious credit card fraud includes:

  • Trafficking credit cards

  • Buying items with stolen credit cards

  • Possessing materials or machines to counterfeit credit cards

  • Running facilities where illegal or counterfeit credit cards are manufactured or produced

  • Hacking into a website to steal credit card information

  • Selling items purchased with stolen credit cards over the internet or for cash

The penalties applicable will depend on the specific type of credit card fraud you commit:

Stealing Credit Cards PC 484e

Under PC 484e, you could be charged with Grand Theft if you convey, transfer, or sell a credit card without the issuer or cardholder's permission. According to California law, grand theft could be charged as a misdemeanor. The offense could lead you to a one-year sentence in the county jail. Grand theft crime could also be a felony under this code; therefore, you could be sentenced 16 months, two years, or three years in state prison. At times, credit card fraud may involve multiple victims with multiple alleged crimes. In such a case, a victim could face multiple charges and decades in prison.

Forging Credit Card PC 484f

PC 484f deals with the crime of forging credit card information. Under this code, creating a counterfeit credit card, forging credit card, using a counterfeit credit card, or using a forged credit card are all acts that amount to credit card fraud. You could be charged with forgery under this code if you're found guilty of the crime. It is a felony to face forgery charges under California law. You risk facing a three years sentence in state prison. You could also face charges of a misdemeanor, leading to a one-year sentence in county jail.

Fraudulent use of Credit Card PC 484g

PC 484g deals with the fraudulent use of a credit card or the use of credit card information that has been altered. If you fraudulently obtain the goods or services exceeding $950, you could face charges of the offense of Grand Theft under PC 487 that may lead to three years sentence in state prison. If you fraudulently obtain goods and services less than $950, you could face charges of Petty Theft under PC 484 that may lead to a one-year sentence in county jail.

Credit Card Fraud by a Retailer PC 484h

You could be charged with violating PC 484h if you provide goods and services using a credit card that is expired or fraudulent. You could also face charges for the same if you use a revoked credit card to violate PC 484e. If the goods or services exceed $ 950, you could be charged with Grand Theft PC 487, leading to a three-year sentence in state prison. If the goods or services don't exceed $ 950, you could be charged with Petty Theft under PC 484, leading to a one year sentence in county jail.

Counterfeiting Credit Cards PC 484i

You could be charged for violating PC 484i if you're found in possession of an incomplete credit card. This statute makes it a crime to complete an incomplete credit card without the permission of the issuer. You could also be charged for violating PC 484i if you modify, change, or alter any part of the credit card. Changes to the information contained in the magnetic stripe and changes to the card’s face to defraud; this acts similarly punishable. Furthermore, you could be guilty of violating PC 484i if you traffic credit card making machines, incomplete credit cards, possess or make credit cards with full knowledge that the receiver will make counterfeit cards.

It is a misdemeanor under California law if you're found in possession of an incomplete credit card and complete it without the issuer's consent. This could lead to six months sentence in county jail and a fine of $ 1000 maximum. It is also a wobbler if you're charged with possessing equipment that makes credit cards. You could face a sentence of 16 months or two years in state prison. Furthermore, you could be facing felony charges for the same offense. This could lead you to a three years sentence in state prison.

Publishing Credit Card Information

You could face charges of violating PC 484j if you intentionally publish information about a bank account, debit card, passwords, debit card pin, or credit card for committing fraud. Publishing information may include communicating over the internet, by writing, orally, or using a computer. It is a misdemeanor under California law to publish credit card information. You could face a six months sentence in jail and a fine of $ 1000.

Immigration Consequences of Credit Card Fraud

If you are convicted of the crime of credit card fraud, you could face adverse immigration consequences. The conviction could make a non-citizen to be deported from the United States. A conviction for credit card fraud could also mark you as inadmissible into the United States. Most crimes that mark a person as inadmissible or lead to deportation are aggravated felonies. Whether the prosecutor charges credit card fraud as a felony will depend on the circumstances of your case. If the crime is an aggravated felony, it will have adverse effects on your immigration status.

Expungement of the Conviction for Credit Card Fraud

Like most criminal offenses in California, the crime of credit card fraud is also entitled to expungement. However, you'll have to meet several conditions for you to qualify for the criminal record expungement. You'll have to complete probation or jail time, whichever is applicable and abide by all the conditions. However, even if you violate the probation term, you could still apply for an expungement of the criminal record. However, whether or not the crime is expunged from your record will depend on the judge's discretion.

Defenses for Credit Card Fraud

There are three common legal defenses to fight your charges against credit card fraud in California. These defenses are:

Unlawful Search and Seizure

If the police obtain credit card fraud evidence from you through unlawful search and seizure, that evidence may be excluded from criminal charges. Any charges in the case could be reduced or dismissed. The fourth amendment on the U.S constitution defends the fraudsters from unlawful searches and seizures by the police.

You didn't intend to commit fraud.

You could be guilty of credit card fraud if only you acted intentionally to commit the fraud. You may also face the charges of committing credit card fraud by tricking or deceiving another person. If your attorney proves that there was no intention in the act, the charges could be dismissed.

No probable cause

If you're arrested or stopped by police for violating credit card fraud laws without probable cause, any evidence from the improper arrest or stop could be excluded from the charges. This could lead to a reduction or dismissal of the charges. The U.S constitution fourth amendment prohibits the police from arresting or detaining a suspect of a crime without a probable cause.

Crimes Related to Credit Card Fraud

Several crimes are related to the crime of credit card fraud under California law. The prosecutor may charge the related offenses alongside the crime of credit card fraud or credit card fraud. Some of the related offenses include:

  • Identity theft under PC 530.5

  • Burglary under PC 459

  • Unauthorized computer access under PC 502

Identity Theft

California PC 530.5 outlines the crime of identity theft. According to the law, it's a crime to take another person's identifying information and to use it for a fraudulent or unlawful manner. Under California law, identity theft is a wobbler. Therefore, the crime may attract felony or misdemeanor charges. Some of the information that qualifies as personal identifying information include names, account number, passport or driver's license information, telephone, or address information.

You may commit the crime of identity theft if you sign another individual’s signature on a check. You could also commit the crime if you use another person’s identity card to access services or goods. Giving the police another individual’s driver’s license information is also a form of identity theft.

Identity theft laws in California specifically prohibit:

  • Willfully or intentionally obtaining another individual's personal identifying information without the person's consent.

  • Taking another person’s information with the intent to commit fraud

  • Providing, selling, or transferring the personal information of another person without his/her permission to commit fraud.

  • Providing, transferring, or selling the personal identifying information of an individual with the knowledge that the information will be used to commit fraud.

Other information that may qualify as personally identifying information include:

  • A person’s date of birth

  • Credit card numbers

  • Information contained in certificates like birth or death certificates

  • Mother’s maiden name

  • Employee or school ID number

  • Social security number and tax ID

If the prosecutor charges the offense as a misdemeanor, the penalties will include a summary or misdemeanor probation, jail time of up to one year, and a time not exceeding $ 1000. If charged as a felony, the penalties for identity theft are formal or felony probation, imprisonment in state prison for a period not exceeding three years, and a fine not exceeding $ 10,000. The crime of identity theft may also have negative immigration consequences.


California PC 459 defines the crime of burglary. The crime entails entering a residential or commercial structure of a vehicle with intent to commit grand theft, petty theft, or a felony. The prosecutor will have to prove several elements to be able to accuse you of burglary:

  • You entered a room, building, structure, and vehicle to commit a California theft crime or felony.

  • When you entered the structure, you had an intent to commit a crime, either theft or felony.

  • You either stole or intended to steal property worth more than $ 950

  • The structure you accessed was not a commercial establishment.

  • The structure you accessed was a commercial establishment, but you accessed it after work hours.

Unauthorized Computer Access

Under the California PC 502, it is a crime to access another individual or company's computer without the computer owner's consent. You should not access software, data, or computer network without permission. This crime also includes deleting, destroying, damaging, or altering any data stored on a computer. Prosecutors may charge this crime as a felony or misdemeanor. If charged as a felony, the conviction could lead to imprisonment of up to 3 years in jail.

Find a Pasadena Criminal Attorney Near Me

If you are facing credit card fraud charges, the consequences could be detrimental. You should not try to fight the charges on your own. Instead, you should seek the assistance of a qualified criminal attorney. The Pasadena Criminal Attorney can evaluate your case and help you come up with a proper defense. Contact us at 626-689-2277 and speak to one of our attorneys today.

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