Credit Card Fraud – CALIFORNIA PC 484e – 484j
If you find yourself facing the charge of credit card fraud in the state of California, it is in your best interests to act quickly to secure the services of a criminal defense attorney with deep experience in this practice area. Given the potentially harsh and life-changing sentences you could be facing upon a credit card fraud conviction, you will need every possible advantage when you walk into the courtroom.
At Leah Legal Criminal Defense, we have a long track record of successfully defending clients in the Los Angeles Area who have been accused of credit card fraud. And we stand ready to put our intricate knowledge of California credit card fraud law and of local Los Angeles and Southern California court processes to work for you.
For a free legal consultation, call us anytime 24/7 at 818-484-1100.
How Is "Credit Card Fraud" Defined in California?
California Penal Code Section 484 criminalizes credit card fraud in California and subdivides it, under numerous subsections, into various specific types of credit card fraud. In general, the statute concerns all manner of fraudulent actions involving a credit card, debit card, or the information associated with such a card or account.
Fraud is defined as any activity wherein one unlawfully attempts to attain an undeserved benefit for himself and/or cause another person an undeserved loss. To attempt to use a credit or debit card or associated information to intentionally defraud another person and enrich yourself is an act of credit card fraud.
California Penal Code sections 484e through 484j outline particular instances of credit card fraud and assign punishments to each class. While there are many different specific crimes listed, they are generally all punished the same as petty theft, grand theft, or forgery, being seen to fall under those classifications.
Credit card fraud is also a federal offense if committed against a government entity, on government-owned property, or in more than one U.S. state. It is possible, in such cases, to be charged with violating one or more state statutes and with violation of U.S. Code, Title 18, Section 1029. It is also possible to be charged on either the state or federal level instead of on both. Punishments for California credit card fraud are already very severe, but if convicted of a federal violation, you could see heavy fines and up to 20 years in prison as part of the sentence.
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Types of Credit Card Fraud
As credit card fraud can be committed in a great variety of ways, the California Penal Code devotes substantial space to this crime, in Penal Code section 484 subsections e, f, g, h, i, and j.
Penal Code section 484e
This subsection deals with the sale, acquisition, or transfer of a credit or debit card or associated account information. To do any of these activities without the cardholder's knowledge and permission is considered fraud.
To even knowingly possess someone else's card and/or information without their permission and with intent to use it for fraud, is itself a crime. If, however, you did not actually carry out the intended fraud, it is classed as an act of petty theft and is punishable by:
- 6 months in county jail.
- A $1,000 maximum fine.
If you did carry out the fraud, it is an act of grand theft, but can be punished as either a misdemeanor or felony. As a misdemeanor, it is punishable by:
- 12 months in jail.
- A $1,000 fine.
As a felony, it is punishable by:
- 16 months to 3 years in jail.
- Up to 12 months in jail with probation.
- A maximum fine of $10,000.
Penal Code section 484f
This statute concerns the forgery of credit cards and of credit card information. It is violated by someone knowingly and illegally counterfeiting, altering, or signing and using a credit card to defraud another person and benefits his or herself financially.
As forgery, it is punished under Penal Code section 470 but is punished the same as Penal Code section 484e (as either grand or petty theft).
Penal Code section 484g
Penal Code section 484g concerns the fraudulent use of an access card, which means either a credit or debit card, or of the associated account information. Using a counterfeit/forged, stolen/lost, or expired/revoked access card in an attempt to benefit financially is fraud.
If you steal via access card property valued at over $950, within a six-month period of time, it is grand theft credit card fraud. If the value of the stolen property is $950 or less, it is petty theft.
Penal Code section 484h
Penal Code section 484h differs from the statutes covered so far in that it is committed by retailers. Retailer credit card fraud can be committed a number of different ways, including:
- Knowingly accepting payment via an access card that the retailer knows or should have known was being fraudulently used. As the retailer stands to gain financially by making sales, regardless of whether the card is valid, there is a clear motive for violating Penal Code section 484h.
- Presenting evidence of an access card transaction so as to collect on it, when in fact, the retailer delivered no goods/services of value for the money charged OR delivered less value than the amount charged.
Punishment for Penal Code section 484h is the same as for Penal Code section 484g, as petty or grand theft.
Penal Code section 484i
This subsection deals with counterfeiting credit card. It, therefore, overlaps with Penal Code section 484e but is, nonetheless, a separate statute.
Penal Code section 484i is violated by any of the following activities:
- Possession of a blank/incomplete access card, while intending to later fill it in with a cardholder's data without his/her consent.
- Alteration of any part or feature of a credit card, the alteration being done for fraud purposes.
- Permitting or facilitating the unlawful alteration of a credit card or the card holder's account information.
- Possessing, producing, or trafficking in credit-card manufacturing equipment or in "blank cards," knowing that the person to whom you sell the equipment intends to use it for fraud.
A conviction on Penal Code section 484i, credit card counterfeiting crimes, varies based on the specific act. To possess a blank card while intending to later complete it for fraud purposes, is a misdemeanor, punishable by:
- A 6-month maximum jail sentence.
- A fine of up to $1,000.
To fraudulently alter information on a card is forgery and can be either a felony or misdemeanor. It, along with Penal Code section 484f, is punished under California's forgery statute, Penal Code section 470.
Unlawful manufacture, possession, or sale of card-making equipment can be either misdemeanor or felony. As a felony, it can be punished by:
- 16 months to 3 years in jail.
- A fine of up to $10,000.
As a misdemeanor, it is punishable by:
- Up to 6 months in jail.
- A fine of up to $1,000.
Penal Code section 484j
Under Penal Code section 484j, it is illegal to publish credit or debit card information without the knowledge and consent of the cardholder and with the intent to defraud another person. This also applies to ID numbers, passwords, and all manner of account information.
"Publishing," here, simply means to communicate the information in any way, shape, or form; be it verbally, in writing, or electronically via computer.
Illegal publishing of credit card data is a misdemeanor offense and is punishable by:
- A maximum jail term of 6 months.
- A maximum fine of $1,000.
Penalties for Credit Card Fraud
We have already listed the punishments for various forms of credit card fraud, but it should also be said that you can only be convicted of one of the above-listed subsection charges for the same offense, even if the crime could conceivably fall under more than one subsection of Penal Code section 484. Of course, if there were multiple acts of fraud, then multiple convictions could take place.
The great majority of credit card fraud cases in California are punished as a form of forgery, with it being counted as either petty or grand theft based on if the amount stolen was over or under $950. However, we have seen that there are also many other specific forms of credit card fraud, each with its own set of particular punishments.
Possible Defense Strategies
At the Criminal Law Office of Leah Legal, we have great familiarity with all of the various forms of California credit card fraud listed in PC 484 and at other places in the California Penal Code. We also understand the courtroom dynamics that take place during credit card fraud cases and know which types of defenses are most likely to prevail in each specific legal situation.
Some of the most common defense strategies we use in defending against the charge of credit card fraud are:
- Lack of Fraudulent Intent: Regardless of all other facts of the case, if the prosecutor cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you intended to defraud another person or entity, you cannot be convicted of credit card fraud. For example, if you tried to use an expired access card at a gas pump, it is not fraud if you simply didn't realize or remember that it was expired.
- Lack of Sufficient Evidence: All elements of the crime must be proved to gain a conviction, which is not always easy for prosecutors to accomplish, especially with a skilled defense attorney fighting them every step of the way. For example, even if one had fraudulent intent when using a revoked credit card, in this case, he/she must have received prior notice of the card's having been revoked before a conviction is allowed.
- False Accusations: It is not at all impossible that someone with a grudge against another person might falsely accuse that person of credit card fraud out of revenge. If, for example, a dating couple willingly shared a credit card, the cardholder might suddenly pretend that he or she had not given permission to use the card after the couple break up.
- Mistaken Identity: As the person committing credit card fraud may well be "hiding behind a computer" or otherwise hidden from the view of those he/she is defrauding, it is not at all uncommon for someone else to be framed or to be wrongly assumed guilty based on circumstantial evidence.
Other Related Offenses
Other offenses often charged along with or instead of credit card fraud include the following:
- Identity Theft: The illegal use of someone else's personal information, including credit card account information, without that person's knowledge and consent, is identity theft. This crime is punishable by heavy fines and a prison term as long as 25 years. It is also a federal offense.
- Internet Fraud: Whenever any form of credit card fraud is committed over the Internet, it is a special crime called Internet fraud and is a federal offense. Illegal online purchases with someone else's card, sale online of goods obtained through a stolen credit card, and advertising online that you sell credit-card manufacturing equipment can all be prosecuted as Internet fraud and can be punished with large fines and long prison terms.
- Burglary (PC 459): While burglary is not associated in the popular mind with credit card fraud, under California law, entering a building with intent to steal is burglary. If you enter with intent to steal a credit card or intent to use a stolen credit card at a store, it counts as burglary.
- Elder Abuse (PC 368): When those 65 or older, or those classed as dependent adults are the victims of credit card fraud, it can be elder abuse. For example, if a worker at a nursing home manipulates a resident to gain access to his/her credit card, it would be both credit card fraud and elder abuse.
- Mail Theft (PC 530.5e): As credit cards are often stolen out of mailboxes used by the U.S.P.S., it is not uncommon for mail theft to be charged along with credit card fraud.
Contact Us Today For Help
At Leah Legal, we will work diligently from day one to build you a solid defense against the charge of credit card fraud. We know how to challenge the evidence and the argument of the prosecution, how to win a dismissal or acquittal where possible, and how to negotiate a favorable plea when necessary.