The law in California is designed to protect individuals against credit card fraud, as such California Penal Code §484 sets forth four (4) types of conduct, which constitute credit card fraud. The penal code punishes the use of another person’s, access, credit, or debit card without their consent. Additionally, if the Defendant sells, conveys, transfers, or uses a Victim’s information without their consent, the Defendant can be found guilty of Credit Card Fraud. It should be noted that once the intent to commit the fraud has been formed, paired with the act of presenting the Victim’s information, the crime of credit fraud has been completed; it does not matter if the Defendant succeeded in their attempt to commit fraudi.
There are many methods of committing credit card fraud, but the most common forms involve the use of the Victim’s card, without their consent. This can occur even if the card has been revoked by the Victim; thus the argument that it was impossible to complete the fraud is not a defense to credit card fraud. Another common form of credit card fraud occurs when the Defendant uses a card, knowing that there is not enough money to complete the payment. Finally, credit card fraud occurs when the defendant utilizes stolen information to withdraw money, pay money, or receives money.
To be convicted of violating §484, the Prosecution must prove that:
- the Defendant used the Victim’s card;
- in a fraudulent manner;
- without the Victim’s consent; AND
- The Defendant intended to commit fraud against the Victim
Ultimately, if a person uses the card of another person, without the specific intent to commit fraud, they cannot be found guilty of credit card fraud. Thus, it is a strong defense to argue that the Defendant used the card of another by mistake.
California Violations Credit Card Fraud
California Penal Code §484 identifies five (5) distinct types of credit card fraud. Each violation has unique penalties associated with that violation. Specifically, California Penal Code §484(e)ii, §484(f)iii, §484(g)iv, §484(h)v, and §484(j)vi set forth the specific types of conduct that will result in a conviction for credit card fraud. The remainder of this article will focus on: (1) the specific elements of each form of credit card fraud, (2) the punishments associated with each form of credit card fraud; and (3) what Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer can do to assist you if you are accused of credit card fraud.
1. Penal Code 484 (e): Using a Stolen Card
Section 484(e) of the California Penal Code makes it a crime to: (1) transfer, convey, or sell; (2) a stolen card; (3) without the consent of the Victim. It should be noted that the crime is completed once the Defendant attempts to perform the act, it does not matter if they succeeded in their attempt. The mere act of trying to use a stolen card will subject a Defendant to criminal penalties.
Dan is a student at UCLA, one day while walking around campus she found a credit card belonging to Victor on the ground. Dan sold the card to his friend Damien for $350. Dan has violated California Penal Code §484(e) because he transferred another person’s card without their consent.
Dan was stopped on suspicion of driving under the influence. The arresting officer conducted a pat down and discovered that Dan had credit cards in his pocket belonging to several other people. Dan can be convicted of violating §484(e) because the Courts have determine that merely possessing the stolen cards is sufficient to support a conviction. Thus, a conviction will stand despite the fact that the Defendant had not used them.
1.2 What Are the Punishments I May Face if I am Convicted of Violating §484(e)
Credit Card Fraud can be brought as either a felony or a misdemeanor. This is known as a “wobbler offense” in California. The determination of how to bring the charge is made by the District Attorney, and will be based on the factors surrounding your case.
If you are convicted of misdemeanor credit card fraud in violation of §484(e) you may face incarceration in county jail for a period of up to one (1) year and/or a fine of up to one-thousand ($1,000) dollars.
If you are convicted of felony credit card fraud in violation of §484(e) you may face incarceration in California State Prison for a period ranging from sixteen (16) months to two (2) or three (3) years and/or a fine of up to ten-thousand ($10,000) dollars. Additionally, you may face probation for up to a year.
Alternatively, if the Prosecution can show that the Defendant not only possessed the stolen cards, but also intended to commit a fraud, they will be charged with either petty or grand theft. The determination will be made in accordance with the rules of theftvii.
2. Penal Code 484(f) : Forgery as it relates to credit cards
California Penal Code §484(f) punishes the act of forging a credit card, specifically the act of altering, embossing, or designing a fake card and “uttering” that card for their own benefit without the consent of the account owner.
2.2.What Are the Punishments I May Face if I am Convicted of Violating §484(f)?
As mentioned above, §484(f) can also be brought as ether a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the facts of your case.
If you are convicted of a misdemeanor §484(f) violation, you may face incarceration in county jail for a period of up to one (1) year and/or a fine of up to one-thousand ($1,000) dollars.
If you are convicted of a felony §484(f) violation, you may face incarceration in California State Prison for a period ranging from sixteen (16) months to two (2) or three (3) years and/or a fine of up to ten-thousand ($10,000) dollars. Additionally, you may face probation for up to a year.
3. Penal Code 484 (g): Using an Access Card or Account Information in a Fraudulent Manner
California Penal Code §484(g) makes it a crime to use a card that has been altered, forged, or stolen and does not belong to the Defendant for the purpose of obtaining goods, services, money, or anything else of value while representing that the card is not fake; the crime will be punished as a theft.
Whether the theft is punished as a misdemeanor or a felony is dependent on the amount of money the Defendant defrauded the Victim for. However, §484(g) combines all the fraud over any given six (6) month period to determine the total value of the fraud. If the amount of money over a six (6) month period is less than $950, the Defendant will be punished as though they committed a petty theft. If the total value is more than $950, the Defendant will be punished as though they committed grand theft.
4. Penal Code 484(h): Credit Card Fraud on a Retailer
California Penal Code §484(h) makes it a separate crime for a retailer to commit credit card fraud. To be guilty of violating §484(h), the Prosecution must prove:
- The Defendant is a retailer;
- The Defendant provided goods, services, money, or anything else of value;
- The Defendant did that based on the presentation of a card;
- The card itself was stolen, altered, expired, revoked, or forged;
- The Defendant knew the card was invalid; AND
- The Defendant provided the goods, services, or money to gain an economic advantage.
Much like Penal Code §484(g), the penalty associated with a conviction under §484(h) is dependent on the value of whatever was involved. If the value is under $950, the Defendant will be punished as though they had been convicted of a petty theft. If the value is over $950, the Defendant will be punished as though they committed a grand theft. For more information about the penalties associated with a conviction for theft, please review our pages on grand theft and petty theft.
5. Penal Code 484(i): Using a Counterfeit Card
California Penal Code §484(i) sets forth the crime of using a counterfeit card. There are three (3) subsections to this statute.
§484(i)(a) makes it a crime to possess a counterfeit card, with the intent to use it, without the Victim’s consent. If this is proven, the Defendant will be convicted of a misdemeanor.
It should be noted that the same conduct could form the basis of forgery as well, provided the Defendant intended to alter, vary, make, or change a card.
§484(i)(c) makes clear that if convicted, the Defendant may face incarceration in county jail for a period of up to one (1) year and/or fined for up to one-thousand ($1,000) dollars.
6. Penal Code 484(j): Publishing Information About Cards
California Penal Code §484(j) makes it punishable offense to publish any information relating to a card or account, without the Victim’s consent. In addition to publishing the information however, the Prosecution must show that the Defendant engaged in the act with the specific intent to defraud the Victim. The Courts have made clear that account information relating to companies or other entities is included in this state.
The Defendant will be deemed to have “published” information if they communicate information either orally, or in writing.
Dan was reviewing his bank statement for the month and noticed that there was a charge from Amazon.com in the amount of $50. Dan had not purchased anything from Amazon. Dan asked his roommate Devin about the charge, and Devin told him that he had texted Dan’s card number to his friend Michael. Devin can be found guilty of violating §484(j) because he communicated Dan’s card information via text.
If you are convicted of §484(j), you will be convicted of a misdemeanor and will face incarceration in county jail for a period of up to one (1) year and/or a fine of up to one ($1,000) dollars.
As mentioned throughout this article, credit card fraud can either be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor. This determination is made by the District Attorney, and is based on a number of facts including: (1) the age of the Defendant, (2) the criminal history of the Victim, (3) the identity of the Victim, (4) the harm the Defendant caused to the Victim; and (5) the amount of money involved in the credit card fraud.
If you are convicted of credit card fraud, the convictions will appear on your criminal history, which is routinely checked by a number of people. Typically employers will conduct criminal background searches on potential employees to screen out some of the applicants. Since Credit Card Fraud involves moral turpitude and dishonesty, employers tend to not hire people with this type of background.
If you have been accused of credit card fraud, it is important to contact an attorney at Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer immediately. By providing your LACL attorney with all the information while it is fresh in your mind, your LACL attorney will have more time to hand craft a unique defense to you case. Having more information will allow your attorney to speak with the District Attorney about dismissing or reducing the charges against from an informed position; this provides the best opportunity for an attorney to succeed. In the event the case goes to trial, LACL will utilize their years of experience representing individuals accused of criminal conduct to raise substantial arguments to the Prosecution’s case against you. Some of these defenses include:
- You did not intend to commit fraud
- Insufficient evidence against you
- You were falsely accused
In the event you are ultimately convicted, LACL will advocate for the lowest sentence possible. Having competent counsel at the sentencing phase of a trial can have a potent impact on the outcome of your case.
If you or a loved one has been accused of credit card fraud, contact Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer at 310-502-1314 for a FREE consultation.
i If the Defendant succeeded, that evidence may become relevant for purposes of determining what penalty to impose.
ii Use of stolen cards
iii Forging a card
iv Fraudulent use of an access card
v Retailer credit fraud
vi Publishing credit information
vii For more information, please read our page on Petty Theft