California Penal Code Section 484 defines the crime of petty theft and includes multiple subdivisions which address the specific crime of committing various types of thefts using credit or debit cards.
These statutes define and punish the offenses that comprise credit card and debit card fraud. Penal Code Section 484e through 484i address these type of fraud crimes, which consist of stealing, counterfeiting, altering and forging of cards.
In simple terms, it's illegal to knowingly use a credit card or the information, such as credit card number, owner's name, billing information, to deceive a someone or entity into suffering a loss, while you receive an undeserved gain.
This could include anything from skimming credit cards to using your own expired credit card if you had the intent to never pay the balance.
The extent of the fraud determines whether the prosecutor files the case as either a misdemeanor or felony crime, and will also determine what potential fines and jail sentences are imposed.
This article examines some of the most common types of credit and debit card fraud charges, the applicable penalties, the most common defenses, and the possibility of a prefiling intervention to reduce or drop charges before court.
To give readers a better understanding of California's credit card laws, our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers are providing a review below.
Common Types of Credit Card Fraud
Theft of credit card information – PC 484e
Penal Code Section 484e is the crime of selling or possessing a physical credit card, or simply credit card information such as account number, security number, or PIN number, without the permission of the lawful owner.
Note that a violation of Section 484e is complete with the mere possession of the contraband items. No actual monetary loss to the victim must occur to sustain a charge under this subdivision.
Forging credit card information – PC 484f
Penal Code Section 484f punishes the forging of credit card information. Two different categories of conduct are covered by this subdivision.
First, Section 484f punishes the altering of an existing credit card. Second, this section punishes the signing of another person's name without their knowledge or permission in a credit card transaction.
Fraudulent use of a credit card – PC 484g
Penal Code Section 484g addresses the fraudulent use of a credit card or credit account. This section is directed at those who knowingly use an expired or fake credit card to attempt to complete a transaction. Note again that actual loss to the business or financial institution is not required.
Retailer credit card fraud – PC 484h
Penal Code Section 484h applies to retailers who engage in credit card fraud. This can occur when a retailer knowingly charges a credit card for goods or services that the merchant did not provide or when the merchant accepts payment using a credit or debit card which the merchant knows is stolen, fraudulent, or otherwise unlawful.
Counterfeiting credit cards – PC 484i
Penal Code Section 484i addresses the counterfeiting of credit or debit cards. Both the manufacturing and possession of counterfeit cards or card making devices are unlawful under Section 484i.
Again, it is not necessary that the government prove that the defendant caused a financial loss to a third party, or even intended or attempted to cause such a loss. The mere possession of the counterfeit cards or card making equipment is sufficient.
Publishing stolen credit card information - PC 484j
Finally, Penal Code Section 484j criminalizes the publishing of stolen credit card information. This typically occurs on the internet, but could also occur via mail, in person, or by any other means.
Publishing PIN numbers, account numbers, or other confidential credit card information is punishable under Section 484j.
Penalties for Credit Card Fraud
Most of the subsections of Penal Code Section 484 can be charged as “wobblers,” under California law, meaning they can be either misdemeanors or felonies.
While proof of actual losses is not required under most subsections of Section 484, a loss amount over $950 will often result in the case being prosecuted as a felony rather than a misdemeanor.
The exception is Penal Code Section 484j – the publishing of credit card information – which is always a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in the county jail.
For the wobbler versions of Section 484, a misdemeanor conviction can result in:
- Up to one year in county jail
- A fine up to $1,000
If you are convicted of a felony offense of Penal Code 484, the penalties include:
- 16 months, 2 or 3 years in a California state prison
- A fine up to $10,000
Whether a prosecutor elects to file a credit or debit fraud case as either a misdemeanor or felony will depend on many factors including the intended or actual loss amount to the victim, the defendant's prior record, if any, and the relatively more or less aggravated nature of the conduct.
Defenses for PC 484 Credit Card Fraud
There are a variety of strategies an experienced criminal defense lawyer can use in an attempt to obtain the best possible outcome. Some of the most common defenses include:
No intent to defraud - Defenses to a charge of credit or debit card fraud often focus on the intent of the defendant, as with other fraud-related offenses.
Fraudulent intent is the intent to deceive the victim, cause the victim to rely on the false statements made, and thereby deprive the victim of some valuable property.
If a defendant, for example, uses a credit card which is expired to conduct a transaction, they are not guilty of credit card fraud absent proof that the defendant was aware that the card was expired and intended to use it anyway.
Good-faith mistake - A good-faith mistake should not form the basis for a criminal prosecution under one of the subsections of Penal Code Section 484.
Pre-filing intervention - Through the process of prefiling intervention, it may be possible for defense counsel to persuade the prosecuting agency to reduce a felony level arrest to a misdemeanor level filing in court, or even to persuade them to reject that charges for prosecution completely.
Credit Card Fraud Attorney in Los Angeles
If you, or someone you know, is under investigation for, has been charged with, or has been arrested for credit or debit card fraud under California law, contact our experienced team of Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys for an initial consultation.
Our law firm has a track record of success in all type of theft-related cases. We need to first review the details of your case to start planning an appropriate strategy.
Eisner Gorin LLP is a criminal defense law firm located at 1875 Century Park E #705, Los Angeles, CA 90067. Contact our office for a consultation at (310) 328-3776.