Credit Card Fraud

Credit card fraud is a prevalent offense in California. The crime occurs when a person uses a credit card fraudulently to obtain goods or services. In California, Penal Code Section 484 is the statute that outlines credit card fraud. Under this law, six sections discuss the various ways one can commit credit card fraud. The penalties for this offense are severe and depend on the circumstances of the crime.

Possible punishment for violating PC 484 includes hefty fines, jail terms, and possible deportation if you are an immigrant. Avoiding harsh penalties is the primary objective of every defendant faced with these accusations. At Darwish Law, we understand that your career, personal reputation, and freedom matter.  Like several other Santa Ana clients, we will represent you if facing these allegations and achieve a favorable outcome.

Credit Card Fraud Laws

As stated earlier, these fraud laws are charged, prosecuted, and punished according to PC 484. Under this law, various sections describe the multiple violations that could be charged as credit card fraud. They are:

  • PC 484(e) – This part of the law deals with stolen cards. It is a criminal offense to steal another person's credit card, credit details, and use the card or sell the information without their permission. Under this statute, it is also an offense to have a credit card in your possession belonging to someone else without their knowledge or consent.
  • PC 484(f) – This statute deals with the forgery of credit card details. It is a criminal offense to change or modify information in an already existing card under this law. The statute further criminalizes the signing of someone else's name following a transaction without the credit card owner's consent.
  • PC 484(g) – If you fraudulently or unlawfully use an account or card, you will face charges for violating PC 484(g). You must never use a fake, expired, or stolen card to purchase goods or services under this statute when you know it is invalid. Additionally, using the same card to obtain the cash is also an offense punished under this statute.
  • PC 484(h) – This statute deals with fraud concerning a retailer or a business owner. You will be prosecuted for violating this law if you:
    • Accept payments through a revoked, stolen, fake, or forged card when you are aware it is invalid
    • Present falsified evidence detailing a trade to receive money for services or goods sold when no transaction happened
  • PC 484(i) – In California, it is a crime to use a counterfeit credit card. Under this law, you commit the offense when you possess or manufacture fake credit or debit cards. The statute further criminalizes the possession of equipment used to make the counterfeit cards or the trading and distribution of these counterfeit cards.
  • PC 484(j) – This statute discusses the crime of publishing card details or information. If you knowingly communicate or share information regarding a credit card to defraud another person or a business, you violate this law. The credit card details or information that you must not share or publish includes:
    • Passwords
    • PIN numbers
    • Other information on the account that is confidential

You can violate this statute through various ways that include:

  • Using another person's debit or credit card without their authority or knowledge
  • Using your credit card to obtain goods or services when you are aware the account it is linked to has no funds
  • Purchasing goods or services using a card stolen from its owner

Being Charged with Credit Card Fraud

Many incidents can trigger credit card fraud investigations. For instance, a person can report that their wallet containing credit cards was stolen. This will prompt the police to monitor where the cards could be used or presented. The police will then go to the stores where the cards were used for further investigation. In most cases, when the cards are reported missing, the owner will also report it to their financial institution or bank and have them blocked.

A business owner can also report a suspected stolen card to the authorities. This may also trigger an investigation to determine if people around there are trading or using stolen or fraudulent cards to obtain services or goods.

After the investigation is complete, the police will charge you with any or several of the above-discussed violations depending on the outcome of the investigation. After charges are brought against you, the next step would be to fight the allegations in court with the help of your attorney.

Defenses to Penal Code Section 484

If found guilty of violating any of the earlier discussed statutes, the penalties are steep. When faced with these allegations, your primary objective is to fight against a conviction that would result in these consequences. Your best chance of fighting these charges is to hire an experienced attorney to study the case and offer you an excellent defense. Some of the common defenses used in these charges are:

  • You had no intention to defraud or commit fraud
  • There was no reason or probable cause to stop you
  • The search and seizure was unlawful
  • You were framed, or the allegations were false

No Fraud was intended

One of the elements a prosecutor must prove is your intent. If you had no intention of committing fraud, you could not be found guilty of the offense. The prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you intended to commit a crime with the credit card.

You are guilty of violating PC 484 if you had a specific intention of defrauding another person through deception or tricks. Your lawyer can argue that your actions were not intended to trick or cheat any person. For instance, as you walk down the street, you come across a lost wallet with credit cards in it. You pick the wallet up intending to turn it into the authorities to look for the rightful owner.

Unfortunately, as you drive home, you are pulled over for a traffic violation, and the officer asks you for your driver's license. As you reach out to the glove compartment to grab it, the wallet you picked up falls and the cards therein fall.

The officer notices the cards are not bearing your name and questions you on how you obtained them. Unfortunately, the officer suspects you of credit card fraud and arrests you on those charges. Here, your lawyer can present your side of the story, and if the explanation is credible, you will be cleared of the allegations.

No Probable Reason

Before an officer stops you, there must be reasonable suspicion. Under the fourth amendment, an officer cannot arrest or detain you without probable cause or reasonable suspicion. For instance, in the above case, the officer had a reason to stop you because of a traffic violation. In the process, they discovered credit cards not belonging to you.

However, if an officer stops you for no reason, any evidence they obtain in the process is not admissible because the arrest was illegal. When the evidence is excluded in court, the prosecutor's case is weakened. This can result in the dismissal of charges against you.

For your lawyer to use this defense, you must be observant and knowledgeable of your rights as a citizen. As your attorney interviews you on the circumstances of your arrest, you must try and remember every detail even when it seems irrelevant. Through the interview, your attorney can find inconsistencies in the arrest or investigation and use that in your defense.

Illegal Search and Seizure

Under the fourth amendment, you are protected from searches without probable cause and from charges that were filed based on unlawfully obtained evidence. When an officer has reason to suspect you of credit card fraud, they must obtain a search warrant from a judge. Furthermore, they must limit their search to the scope of the search warrant and not beyond. For instance, if the warrant is for your home, they cannot search your car and present the evidence they find there.

Any evidence obtained outside the scope of the search warrant is inadmissible in court. If the officers failed to show you a search warrant during the investigation or arrest, you have the right to refuse them from entering and searching your property. If they go ahead and search, report this to your lawyer to have the evidence thrown out by the court. The act of searching and obtaining evidence without a warrant amounts to police misconduct. This, too, is likely to result in the dismissal of charges against you.

False Allegations

Criminal cases are sometimes filed based on false allegations and/or intentional allegations. If you fight with a person, they may decide to take revenge on you by falsely accusing you of credit card fraud. A person can place their card or another person's card in your bag or belongings and accuse you of stealing it. If this is the case, with the help of evidence and witness testimonies, your lawyer can argue your case and have the allegations or charges against you dropped.

Lack of Knowledge

Knowledge is a critical element in credit card fraud. You visit your uncle, and he gives you a package to take to another person, and you do not know the contents; you are innocent of any criminal activity involved. The package you received contained forged, fake, or stolen credit cards, and you never knew about it. Unbeknownst to you, the police have been investigating your uncle's activities, and they stop you on your way, suspecting you of carrying the fraudulent credit cards. If this is the case, your lawyer can argue about your lack of knowledge and have the charges dismissed.

Having the equipment to manufacture fraudulent cards is also an offense, as discussed earlier. If you were given some machines to deliver to a particular place and did not know what they were or what they were used for, you are innocent of violating PC 484(i).

Penalties for Credit Card Fraud

Generally, the offense of credit card fraud is a wobbler. This means that some sections of the law are punished as misdemeanors and others as felonies. The circumstances of the offense and your criminal past also contribute to the prosecutor's charges. For the different sections, the penalties you can receive are:

  • PC 484(e) – This violation is often prosecuted similarly to grand theft. Typically, grand theft is a wobbler in California. Whichever way it is charged, the maximum county jail time is three years.
  • PC 484(f) – This violation is prosecuted as a forgery. Forgery, just like grand theft, is a wobbler in California. As a misdemeanor, the maximum county jail time is one year. If convicted on felony charges, you may face a prison sentence of up to three years.
  • PC 484(g) – This offense is prosecuted as petty theft or grand theft. Grand theft, as earlier stated, is a wobbler whose maximum felony jail sentence lasts a maximum of three years. On the other hand, a petty theft charge is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum county jail sentence of one year.
  • PC 484(h) – This violation is also charged as petty theft or grand theft. If convicted on any of the charges, the penalties are as found under PC 484(h).
  • PEN 484(i) – This offense is also a wobbler. If found guilty on felony charges, the harshest penalty is prison time for up to three years.
  • PEN 484(j) – When you are accused of violating this statute, you will face misdemeanor prosecution. This offense is less harshly punished than the other violations under this law. Upon a misdemeanor conviction, the maximum county jail sentence served is six months.

Consequences to your Immigration Status

Some offenses in California negatively affect your immigration status if you are a foreigner. The immigration law states that some violations can result in:

  • The deportation of an immigrant
  • Being marked as inadmissible if you are a foreigner

The crimes that qualify to be inadmissible or deportable are moral turpitude or aggravated felonies. Based on the penalties discussed above, violating some sections of the statute result in felony charges that can be detrimental to your immigration status.

Expungement of your Record of Conviction

Every defendant with a criminal record has a right to seek expungement of their record provided:

  • They complete their probation sentence or
  • They serve their jail sentence to completion

After serving your sentence, your lawyer can petition the court to expunge your record. The discretion to grant the petition depends on the judge. However, before the judge's decision, the prosecutor is informed of your petition and allowed to respond to it.

If the prosecutor opposes the expungement of your record, the court will give a date where both sides present their arguments before a judge. After the hearing, the judge will either grant or deny you the expungement. According to PC 1203.4, if your record is expunged, you are released from the conviction's penalties.

A conviction for PC 484 and Your Gun Rights

Felony convictions often affect your right to have or own a firearm. In California, convicted felons must not acquire or hold a weapon. As discussed earlier, some sections under PC 484 are prosecuted as felonies. If you are found guilty of a felony violation, you will lose your rights to owning or purchasing a gun.

Related Offenses

When an offense is related to another, it can be charged together with or instead of another. In California, three particular crimes that fall under this category are:

Penal Code Section 530.5 – Identity Theft

Under this statute, taking someone else's identity and using it as your own is an offense. According to the law, you commit this offense if you identify information belonging to another and use it as your own or sell it to another person to engage in fraudulent activities.

If you usurp another person's identity by pretending to be them, you would also forge credit cards or steal their credit card details to use them as your own and obtain goods and services. If you are caught, you could face charges for stealing their identity as found under PC 530.5 and credit card fraud, according to PC 484.

Penal Code Section 459 – Burglary

According to this statute, it is an offense to enter a commercial or residential building to commit a crime or steal. If you enter a building and you have a credit card, this in itself is a burglary. Additionally, if you use the credit card you stole to obtain goods or services without the owner's consent, you are guilty of credit card fraud. In this case, the prosecutor can bring two charges against you to be prosecuted alongside each other.

Penal Code Section 502 – Unauthorized Access to a Computer

Under this statute, it is a criminal offense to access another person's computer without their consent. Additionally, if you access the computer and steal the person's credit card details, you will be guilty of two offenses. The prosecutor, in this case, can charge you with PC 484 and PC 502 violations.

Find a Fraud Lawyer Near Me

If charged with a fraud crime, the consequences of a conviction go beyond the legal penalties. They include other lasting repercussions that could affect your life adversely. To prevent this from happening, you need an aggressive defense against the credit card fraud charges. An experienced attorney from Darwish Law can help you fight the allegations and earn you a favorable outcome. Call our office today at 714-887-4810 to discuss your charges.