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Defending Credit Card Theft Charges in California

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Apr 17, 2021

Review of Penal Code 484e Credit Card Theft Charges and Defenses

California Penal Code 484e PC makes it a crime for someone to steal a credit or debit card, or the information on the card.

Credit or Debit Card Theft in California – Penal Code 484e PC
PC 484e credit card theft is a wobbler crime that can be filed as either a misdemeanor or felony.

This theft crime statute can be filed by the prosecutor as either a misdemeanor or felony crime, depending on the amount of loss and other factors.

If you are convicted of a felony, it's punishable by up tp three years in a county jail.

PC 484e is the first of several sections that specifically address credit card and debit card fraud.

This particular statute makes it a crime to steal someone else's credit card, debit card, or account information.

A common example includes a situation where someone unlawfully obtains a person's credit card information online and then uses it to purchase merchandise.

California Penal Code 484 PC defines the crime of petty theft, but this statute has subdivisions which address the specific crime of committing various types of thefts using credit or debit cards. 

Criminal Conduct Covered Under Penal Code 484e PC

484e PC has four subdivisions, and in three of the four instances, a person who commits the offense is guilty of grand theft.

In California, grand theft is known as a “wobbler” crime because it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony.

It's a more serious theft than petty theft. The four instances are:

  • an individual (with the intention to defraud) sells, transfers, or conveys a card without the cardholder's consent;
  • an individual acquires cards in the names of four or more persons within a consecutive 12-month period which they have reason to know were taken or retained under circumstances which constitute a violation;
  • a person who (with the intent to defraud) acquires or holds a card without the cardholder's consent with the intention to use, sell, or transfer it to someone other than the cardholder;
  • a person who acquires account information (that was validly issued to someone else) without the cardholder's consent “with the intention to use it fraudulently.”

It's important to note that in order to be convicted of violating PC 484e, no actual monetary loss is required. In other words, just possession of the credit card information is sufficient.

Related California Crimes for PC 484e 

Penal Code 484f PC – forgery of credit cards,

Penal Code 484g PC – fraudulent use of an access card,

Penal Code 484h PC – retailer credit card fraud,

Penal Code 484i PC – counterfeiting credit cards,

Penal Code 484j PC – publish credit card information,

Penal Code 530.5 PC – identity theft,

Penal Code 503 PC – unauthorized computer access,

Penal Code 368 PC – elder abuse,

Penal Code 182 PC – conspiracy.

Penalties for Misdemeanor & Felony Conviction of PC 484e

Generally, crimes are charged as “petty theft” when the property involved is valued at $950 or less.

For a crime to qualify as “grand theft,” it usually needs to exceed $950 in value.

If an individual is charged with grand theft as a misdemeanor, the conviction could result in:

Penalties for California Penal Code 484e Credit Card Theft
If convicted of a PC 484e felony, it's punishable by three years and jail and victim restitution.
  • up to one year in county jail;
  • fines that don't exceed $1000;
  • court fees;
  • and payment to the victim in the form of restitution.

If the offense is charged as a felony, the sentencing could be much more severe. a conviction could result in:

  • up to three years in county jail;
  • fees that do not exceed $10,000;
  • court fees;
  • and payment to the victim of restitution.

If the loss amount exceeds certain thresholds, sentencing enhancements might apply and increase the length of the sentence.

What Are Some Legal Defenses Against Credit Card Theft?

If faced with an allegation of violating Penal Code 484e PC, our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers can use a variety of strategies in an effort to obtain a favorable outcome.

It might be possible to negotiate with the prosecutor to get the charges reduced or dismissed. Some common defenses are:

  • no intention to defraud,
  • good-faith mistake,
  • insufficient evidence,
  • unlawful search and seizure.

The intention to defraud defense is, in part, due to the language in the subdivisions that names intention.

A defense from this stance might argue that the person did not intend to use the information fraudulently.

If the item in question is cash or a gift card, an attorney might argue from that angle.

Prefiling Intervention

Further, our law firm specializes in prefiling intervention, which is a process of persuading the prosecutor from filing formal criminal charges before court.

It involves negotiation with law enforcement and prosecutors to reject the charges. We will partner with our clients to gather:

  • facts and circumstances that led to the arrest,
  • significant mitigating factors which contextualize the alleged conduct.

There might be legally significant issues of proof that can be highlighted to prove the case can't be successfully prosecuted beyond a reasonable doubt.

Criminal Defense for California Credit Card Fraud Cases
Contact our law firm to learn how we can help you.

Often, a police report may be incomplete. A witness could have been missed, or relevant evidence not recovered by law enforcement detectives.

In many credit card fraud cases, there will be both issues of proof and significant mitigating factors.

After we have assembled the necessary information with the help of our clients, we will present a formal written position to law enforcement and the prosecuting agencies.

Whether you're facing misdemeanor or felony credit card fraud charges, it's critical that you have skilled and trusted counsel who can advise you on what will strengthen your case and recognize potential pitfalls.

Eisner Gorin LLP has been rated as a top 1% criminal defense law firm.

We represent clients in all Southern California courts from our two office locations in Los Angeles County.

We need to first review all the details of your case in order to determine an appropriate strategy to fight the charges. Call our law firm for an initial consultation at (310) 328-3776, or you can contact us online.

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About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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