Credit card theft is a crime, and has steadily grown in recent years. In California, credit card theft is known as credit card fraud, and is a white collar crime. Credit card theft occurs when an individual steals, or attempts to steal, another person’s credit card or credit card information. Next, that individual then typically uses, or attempts to use, the stolen credit card. 

However, credit card fraud in California may also include utilizing one’s own credit card with the intent to defraud creditors by not paying the balance. Additionally, the term credit card fraud emcompasses not only credit cards, but all access cards. 

Access cards include credit cards, debit cards, ATM cards, account numbers, or other means of account access that can be used to obtain anything of value. The term value includes money, goods, services, or anything else of value. 

What are the Credit Card Fraud Laws in California?

As mentioned above, the use of credit or debit cards with the intent to defraud someone and without the permission of the account owner, is a crime. Specifically, the crime of credit card fraud in California is outlined in the California Penal Code sections 484(d) through 484(I). 

What is Access Card Grand Theft?

Within the California Penal Code section 484(e), California explicitly makes it a crime for any person to sell, transfer, or convey an access card, with intent to defraud and without the card holder’s consent. Further, it is a crime to simply acquire or retain possession of an access carder without the account holder’s permission. The person charged with the commission of either of the aforementioned crimes, will be guilty of grand theft

Persons guilty under Penal Code section 484(e) may be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the severity of their offense. This is crime is known as a “wobbler” offense,” as it may be either a misdemeanor or felony offense. Misdemeanor penalties may include fines of up to $1,000, one year imprisonment in county jail, or both. Felony convictions carry more severe penalties of up to $10,000 in fines, one to three years imprisonment, or both. 

What is Access Card Forgery?

Next, within the California Penal Code section 484(f), California also makes it a crime to forge credit cards or credit card information. A person may be guilty of forgery if they design or alter a credit card with intent to defraud. Additionally, signing someone else’s name on a credit card, sales draft, sales slip, or other instrument for the payment of money is also considered forgery in California. 

Similar to grand theft, the persons guilty of forgery may also be either charged with a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the severity of their crime. The penalties for persons guilty of forgery are similar to section 484(e). If charged with a misdemeanor penalties may include fines of up to $1,000, one year imprisonment in county jail, or both. If charged with a felony penalties include fines of up to $10,000, one to three years imprisonment, or both. Additionally, the guilty person will have to pay restitution to the victim of their crime. 

What are Petty Theft and Fraudulent Use of Access Card Information Laws?

Under California Penal Code section 484(g), California makes it a crime to use any stolen, forged, altered, counterfeit, expired, or revoked access card to obtain anything of value. Generally, persons charged under this criminal statute, will be guilty of petty theft. However, if the value of the goods obtained exceeds $950, the person will be guilty of grand theft. 

The penalties for petty theft may include fines between $50 and $1,000, imprisonment for up to 6 months, or both. The penalties for grand theft are outlined above.

Further, under section 484(h), retailers may also be charged with credit card fraud if they allow funds to be transferred with the knowledge that the access card used is fake, forged, altered, or stolen. Similar to section 484(g), the penalties for guilty retailers may be considered petty theft crimes or grand theft, depending on the severity of the crime committed. 

Is Counterfeiting Access Cards Illegal?

Under California Penal Code section 484(i), California makes it illegal for any person to possess an incomplete access card, with an intent to complete the card without the owner’s permission. Thus, if you possess an incomplete credit card, you will be guilty of a misdemeanor. 

Additionally, if you make, possess, or traffic in equipment that is used to create counterfeit access cards, you may be subject to imprisonment in a county jail for up to one year. In order to be charged with counterfeiting credit cards from selling equipment, you must possess the knowledge that the buyer of the equipment intends to use the equipment to make counterfeit credit cards. 

Should I Hire an Attorney for Credit Card Fraud?

As can be seen, the penalties for credit card fraud in California may be severe. Additionally, there is a wide range of what qualifies as credit card fraud in California. Thus, if you are facing criminal charges of credit card fraud, it is in your best interests to consult with a knowledgeable California criminal defense attorney in your area.

An experienced attorney will help you understand the charges that you face, as well as help you assert your best defense to the charges. Finally, they can represent your interests in a court of law.