California Laws Regarding Credit & Debit Card Fraud

Penal Codes 484e- 484i:

Credit card and ATM or access card fraud is not uncommon. Stolen cards or use of such cards without the account owner’s consent is unlawful if used to intentionally defraud someone. Credit card fraud can also include forgery, grand and petty theft.

There are various penal code sections designed to define and punish the offenses that comprise of credit card fraud. Section 484e through 484i address these crimes, which consist of stealing, counterfeiting, altering and forging of cards.

Penal Code 484e – Possessing Stolen Credit Cards

It is unlawful to simply possess a stolen credit card or its information. This section also includes selling a stolen card or transferring its information to someone else without the card owner’s consent. It is irrelevant to the commission of the offense if the card is now invalidated since this often occurs quickly once the card owner is alerted that their card or its information is being used illegally. If the card was once validly issued, then your unlawful possession of it is all that is necessary.

You need not have even used the card or its information since possession evinces the requisite intent to commit fraud.

PC 484e is a “wobbler ”offense so that it may be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony depending on your criminal record and the facts of the underlying case.

Misdemeanor Penalties
  • Up to one year in county jail
  • A fine of no more than $1,000
Felony Penalties
  • Probation and any time up to one year in county jail
  • Or county prison time of 16 months, 2 or 3 years
  • And/or a fine of up to $10,000.

Felony charges are likely if you used the card or its information and acquired goods or property worth more than $950, which is grand theft. If you have previous convictions for credit card fraud or some other charge involving fraud, forgery or counterfeiting, or a violent felony, then felony charges under this section is likely regardless of the value of the items illegally obtained.

Penal Code 484f – Forgery Of Credit Cards & Information

It is unlawful to alter a genuine credit card or to create or counterfeit a credit card or sign someone else’s name on a credit card without that person’s consent.

It is charged as either a misdemeanor of felony pursuant to PC 470. Misdemeanors are punished with county jail time up to one year and a fine up to $1,000.

If a felony, you face 16 months, 2 or 3 years in county jail and/or a fine up to $10,000 along with restitution to the victim. It is considered identity theft if you steal someone’s credit card information under PC 530.5 and possibly federal charges may apply as well under Title 18 USC 1028.

Penal Code 484g – Fraudulent Use of an Access Card or Information

It is unlawful to use a stolen, altered, forged, counterfeit or revoked credit or debit card to obtain an item of value.

You commit grand theft if the value of the item or items obtained through use of the stolen, revoked or fake card exceeds $950. Otherwise, it is petty theft.

Penal Code 484h – Retailer Use of Stolen or Fake Card

Retailers do commit fraud if they transfer funds, property, services or goods with the knowledge that the credit card used is fake, altered, forged, stolen or otherwise invalid. They may also commit fraud when they present to a credit card evidence of a transaction for goods or services that were never delivered.

The value of the goods that are the subject of the transaction determine whether the retailer is to be charged with petty or grand theft.

Penal Code 484i – Counterfeiting Credit Cards

Violation of PC 484i is committed if you:

  • Possess an incomplete credit card with the intent to complete it without the consent of card issuer
  • Alter or modify the credit card in any way such as changing the magnetic stripe that contains identifying information
  • Make, possess or traffic in equipment used to create credit cards or incomplete cards. If selling the equipment, you must have the knowledge the buyer intends to create counterfeit credit cards

Penalties for Possession of Incomplete Credit Card-Misdemeanor

  • Up to 6 months in county jail
  • Fine up to $1,000

Penalties of Altering Credit Card or Information-Wobbler

  • If misdemeanor, up to one year and a fine up to $1,000
  • If felony,

Penalties for Possessing Credit Card Making Equipment-Wobbler

  • If misdemeanor-up to 6 months in county jail and fine up to $1,000
  • If felony—16 months, 2 or 3 years in county jail and/or a fine up to $10,000

Legal Defenses

Defenses to credit card fraud include:

Lack of fraudulent intent

This may arise in cases where you try to use an expired or revoked card without knowledge that it was revoked or you merely forgot to renew it.

Lack of prior notice

A credit card company or bank that issued you the card has an obligation to inform you in writing that the card has been revoked or has expired.

Victim of identity theft

Someone stole your card and used it by identifying themselves as you for purposes of fraudulently obtaining goods. This happens frequently in online transactions.

Record Expungement For Credit Or Debit Card Fraud

  • Find Out if You Are Eligible To Have Your Record Expunged
  • Stop Worrying About Employer Background Checks
  • Start Worrying About Landlord Background Checks

Related Offenses

Forgery – PC 470

The forgery statute encompasses checks as well as other legal documents or instruments such as court orders or judgments, deeds to land or wills. You can be convicted of forgery if:

Forge or sign someone else’s name on a check without consent or sign the name of fictitious person or in the name of a fictitious entity

  • Forge the name or seal of another person or the handwriting
  • Falsify, alter or otherwise change a legal will, deed or court judgment
Grand Theft – PC 487

Grand theft is the unlawful taking of someone else’s property without consent to deprive that person of their property permanently or long enough so that they would be deprived of a significant portion of it or its enjoyment and you moved and kept the property for even a short period of time. The value of the property taken must be more than $950.

If you passed off the bad check for more than $950 and acquired funds, services, property or goods with it, then you may be charged with both check fraud and grand theft. If the amount of the theft was more than $65,000, then you face state prison time. For attempted grand theft, your county jail or state prison time is one-half of what would have been imposed if the crime had been completed.

Petty Theft – PC 484 and PC 488

Passing a forged, altered or fictitious check and receiving goods valued at $950 or less is petty theft as well and you may be charged with a violation of the state’s check fraud laws as well. It is a misdemeanor with a sentence of up to 6 months and a fine up to $1,000. For attempted petty theft, the sentence is one-half of what the court would have imposed if the goods or funds had been obtained pursuant to PC 664.

Identity Theft—PC 530.5

By definition, unauthorized use of another person’s credit card or debit card or its information in a fraudulent manner to obtain money, goods, property, services or to obtain medical information is identity theft. California punishes identity theft as a misdemeanor or felony. It is also identity theft to traffic in or to sell or transfer the identifying information of another person without consent and with intent to commit fraud.

Penalties if a misdemeanor are up to one year in county jail and a fine up to $1,000. As a felony, it is 16 months, 2 or 3 years in jail and/or a fine up to $10,000.

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