When individuals or businesses engage in fraudulent activities involving credit cards, they risk facing jail time, business closure, and hefty fines. The reason being authorities are nowadays vigorous when investigating fraud crimes as they have become an enormous problem. If you have been alleged to have committed credit card fraud or have already been charged, it doesn’t mean it is the end of the road for you. It is possible to get the charges reduced or possibly dismissed. The California Criminal Lawyer Group has the knowledge of California fraud crimes law that will help you win the case. Our criminal defense attorneys have highlighted some of the following things on credit card fraud to help you understand the crime.

Credit Card Fraud Overview

Credit card fraud is a white-collar crime that occurs when a person tries to get undeserved benefits by attempting to use or using a credit or debit card in a fraudulent manner that results in loss to another individual or a business. You will be charged and convicted of this crime if the prosecution can prove that you had the intent to defraud another person when you forged, stolen, or counterfeited a credit or debit card. The definition does not only include credit and debit cards. Access cards like ATMs and account numbers are also included. Also, you will be convicted of the crime if you took someone’s credit card without their permission to earn money from it or use it to make purchases. The crime involves actual theft of the credit card or stealing information from unprotected sites or card readers.

For the prosecution to prove that you are guilty of credit card fraud, they must prove the following elements:

  • You Unfairly acquired or used another individual’s access card information
  • You unlawfully used an access card while aware it is expired
  • Deliberately used a stolen access card or its information to make purchases

Types of Credit Card Fraud

As technology improves, it’s possible to have credit card information being stolen instead of the access card itself as ingenious methods continue to be devised every day. The most common forms of access card fraud include:

1. Identity Theft

The type of fraud involves opening new accounts with stolen personal identity information. The account is then used to perform various fraudulent activities. Today identity theft is one of the most common forms of access card theft.

2. Data Breach

Companies that store customer credit card information are sometimes hacked, and existing accounts are taken over by fraudsters. It happens when fraudsters steal credit card numbers, which enables them to use the card to make purchases online or over the phone without using the presence of a card.

3. Stolen Credit Card Imprints

The form of theft involves the use of fake or counterfeit access cards. Before, whenever you used an access card, an impression of the same was produced on a carbon paper. When the carbon paper got thrown away, the card information could still be visible on the paper, and this would be used to make counterfeit or fake access cards. The same thing happens today, but because of improved technology, instead of carbon papers, there are multiple forms of electronic card scanners that can read information from access cards carried in pockets and purses of passersby. The access card imprint from the scanner is then used to make a fake card that functions just like the original card.

4. Stolen Access Cards

The form of credit card fraud has been in existence for a long time. It involves the physical stealing of the access card from its legal owner. Cards can be stolen in various ways, like by stealing a purse or through burglary. Once the access card is in the wrong hands, you can expect it to be used in multiple fraudulent activities.

Credit Card Fraud Under California Law

Each fraudulent activity is charged under a specific law, and the penalties vary. The California PC 484e through 484j criminalizes the following actions.

Access Card Grand Theft

PC 484e criminalizes any action that involves selling, transferring, or acquiring another person’s access card or their access card information without their permission. Having a stolen credit or debit card or its information is also a crime that is punishable under PC 484e. If you have been accused of engaging in any of these offenses, you will be charged with grand theft.

The offense can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. The prosecution will evaluate the circumstances surrounding your case to determine what they will charge you with. In the event they opt for misdemeanor charges, the penalties are:

  • As much as one-thousand-dollar fine
  • No more than 364 days’ jail incarceration

Additionally, if the prosecution chooses felony charges, the penalties for a conviction will involve:

  • No more than ten thousand dollars in fine
  • 16, 24, or 36 months in jail
  • Felony probation for as much as twelve months

Note that possessing a stolen credit card with the intent to use it fraudulently be charged as petty theft. The punishment for being convicted for this crime includes dollars one thousand in fine and one hundred and eighty days’ incarceration.

Access Card Forgery

The offense is defined under PC 484f, and it forbids individuals from meaningfully altering the details of an access card or unlawfully creating or designing one with a plan to defraud. Other activities that PC 484f criminalizes include signing another person’s name on:

  • Credit card
  • Sales draft
  • Sales slip, and
  • Any other instrument of paying money without the consent of the owner.

Persons guilty of forgery crimes can be charged with a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the severity of the case. The penalties for forging an access card are not different from those of credit card grand theft. For a misdemeanor charge conviction, the penalties are one-year jail term or as much as dollars one thousand in fine. The court might also opt to punish you with both fine and incarceration. If they choose for felony charges and you are convicted, the penalties are between twelve to thirty-six months’ imprisonment and a fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars. Also, in addition to these penalties, you might be required to restitute the victim of your crime.

Fraudulent Use of Access Card or Account Information

PC 484g prohibits persons from using any stolen, altered, counterfeited, expired, or revoked access card to buy goods or services or obtain money from an access card. The value of the property acquired is what determines the kind of charges the prosecution will prefer against you. The majority of individuals charged under this law are convicted of petty theft if the amount of money or the value of goods or services obtained is less than dollars nine hundred and fifty. But if the value of products or services obtained is $950 or more, then you are likely to be guilty of grand theft.

If the preferred charge against you is petty theft, if you are found guilty, you will pay fines of between dollars fifty to dollars one thousand or go to jail for as much as six months. At times the judge can sentence you to both penalties. For grand theft, the maximum sentence you will get after a conviction is thirty-six months in jail.

Credit Card Fraud by a Retailer

PC 484h makes it illegal for retailers to allow money transfer while they are aware that the credit card or debit card being used is fake, forged, revoked, stolen, or altered. Also, retailers can be charged under PC 484h if they claim excess money for goods, services, or payment provided whose value is less than the amount being charged. Claiming funds for products, cash, or services not offered is also a crime as per this Penal Code.

If the amount in question is more than nine hundred and fifty dollars, the crime is charged as grand theft as per PC 487. The punishment for the crime is as much as 36 months’ state incarceration. It becomes a petty theft crime if the value of goods, services, or money is less than $950. If you are convicted for petty theft, you will incur up to twelve months’ county jail sentence.

Access Card Counterfeiting

As per PC 484i, it is unlawful to:

  • Possess an access card with incomplete information without permission from the cardholder.
  • Sell an access card-making machinery while fully aware that the buyer is going to use it to make counterfeits.
  • Alter the access card information or appearance with intent to defraud
  • Allow another person to modify the card or its details.

Possessing an access card with incomplete information with the intent to complete it without the owner’s consent is a misdemeanor. A conviction will attract up to half a year in jail or a fine of as much as dollars one thousand. In case you were charged for violating PC 484i because of selling, possessing, or trafficking equipment used to make counterfeit access cards, a conviction will attract the following misdemeanor penalties:

  • As much as one hundred and eighty days in jail
  • A fine no more than $1000

If charged with a felony, the punishment is no more than ten thousand dollars fine, accompanied by a jail sentence of sixteen, twenty-four, or thirty-six months. Note that for the prosecution to convict you of selling access card-making machinery, they must prove that you were aware that the buyer intended to use the equipment to make counterfeit access cards.

In the event you are charged with violation of PC 484i because of changing card information to commit fraud, the offense is considered forgery. A conviction under a misdemeanor charge is subject to one-year incarceration in jail and a fine not exceeding dollars one thousand. A felony conviction, on the other hand, is subject to as much as thirty-six months as per PC 470.

Publishing Credit Card Information

The offense is codified under PC 484j, and it prohibits persons from communicating access card information such as account names, PIN numbers, and passwords deliberately to defraud an individual or a business. The information can be delivered orally, via writing or electronically. The crime is charged as a misdemeanor, and the potential penalties upon conviction are:

  • As much as dollars one thousand in fine
  • Incarceration for six months

Legal Defenses for Credit Card Fraud

Although allegations or being charged with credit card fraud can negatively impact your entire life or entity, you should not lose hope. With an experienced and reputable criminal defense attorney, you can find the right defense theories that can apply in your case. Some of the common defense strategies that can help you include:

1. Lack of Intent to Commit Fraud

You can only be guilty of credit card fraud if you specifically planned to defraud another person. The prosecution proves that you had intent by showing that you used a trick on someone or attempted to deceive a person. To fight these charges, you need to show the jurors and the judge that your actions were an honest mistake, and you never intended to defraud the victim. If you are being charged with using an expired or revoked credit card, you can argue that it was unintentional, and the court will allow you to walk free.

Also, where you were forced to commit an act of fraud, you can use duress or coercion to prove to the court that you had no intent to commit the crime. For the defense to work, you must show that:

  • You or someone else was in immediate danger of serious physical injury or death
  • The individual making the threat made it clear the only way to save yourself or the other person from the threat is by committing access card fraud.
  • You had a reasonable belief that you and the other party were in grave danger.

If you can prove these elements, it will be easy to show the court that you were pressured into the crime, which eliminates the element of intent to defraud.

2. Mistaken Identity

Fraudsters can commit an act of fraud involving an access card but then make you look like the person who committed the crime. The victim of access card fraud might also point a finger to another person who looks like the actual perpetrator, whereas he or she is not. If your defense attorney believes that the victim and eyewitnesses cannot guarantee that you are the person they saw commit the fraud, then he or she can argue that yours is a case of mistaken identity. But where the victim seems to be requisite sure you are the person who committed the crime, and there are other eyewitnesses, it becomes impossible to use mistaken identity as a defense unless you can prove you were set up.

3. Lack of Evidence

Every court in California relies on substantial evidence from the prosecution before they can convict someone. If your attorney can show the court that the evidence presented against you in court is inadequate to prove guilt, then you will walk free.

4. Lack of Probable Cause

As per the Fourth Amendment rights, the arresting officer must have reasonable belief before they can arrest and detain you for an alleged crime. If you were arrested for violating any of the California PCs on credit card fraud, but the arresting officer had no probable cause to make the arrest, the arrest will be termed unlawful. It means that any evidence that was obtained during the arrest will be dismissed, leaving the prosecution with a weak case. In such a scenario, the prosecuting attorney is going to offer you a plea bargain for a reduced charge, or the court might dismiss the case entirely.

5. Illegal Search and Seizure

The Fourth Amendment also provides for individuals to be free from unlawful searches and seizures by law enforcement agencies. If you were charged with credit card fraud after law enforcers conducted an illegal search and seizure, all the evidence obtained during the search is thrown out of the case. When evidence is thrown out of a case, the prosecution is left with little or no evidence resulting in dismissal of the case or charge reduction.

6. Entrapment

You can also argue that you were compelled by law enforcers to commit credit card fraud. The defense strategy works best where police conducted a sting operation that led to your arrest. Your attorney can argue that police officers were very desperate to put you or another person behind bars and thus ended up encouraging another person to commit a crime or failed to uphold their standards while performing the investigation.

Access Card Fraud and Immigration Consequences

If you are convicted of a felony credit card fraud, you are going to face immigration consequences. Immigration laws specify that if a person commits an aggravated felony and he or she is convicted, then they are deportable if they are non-citizen or can be marked as inadmissible in the U.S.

Credit Card Fraud Conviction Expungement

Just like many other convictions, you can get your credit card fraud conviction expunged from your criminal record. However, for that to happen, you must complete your probation term or complete jail term, whichever applies to your case. Note that even if you violate probation terms, you can still qualify for expungement, although this is a decision to be made by your judge.

Other Related Offenses

Some offenses are charged alongside, in addition to or as an alternative to credit card fraud. These offenses include:

Identity Theft

As per PC 530.5, it is an offense to knowingly and unlawfully use another person’s personal information to engage in fraudulent activities. It becomes a crime when you acquire personal details without permission and through dishonesty. Some of the information that is used to identify people and which can be used in committing fraud include:

  • Passport information
  • Social security number
  • Bank details
  • Contact information
  • Birth certificate

If you are convicted of identity theft, you are subject to twenty-five years’ state incarceration and hefty fines. Based on the present violation and your history, the prosecution might opt to charge you with a misdemeanor or a felony identity theft. A misdemeanor conviction will be subject to incarceration for as much as one year or a one thousand dollars fine. For a felony conviction, the sentence is as much as dollars ten thousand fine or imprisonment for between sixteen to thirty-six months.


The offense is codified under PC 459, and it is defined as gaining access to a residential or commercial property with the intent to commit theft or a felony once inside the room. The offense is related to credit card fraud when a burglary occurs, leading to loss of credit cards. If the access cards get into the wrong hands after the burglary, the perpetrators will get into a fraud spree to undeservedly benefit themselves at your expense. You can be charged with access card fraud and burglary at the same time if you entered a room with the intent to commit a felony and stole an access card.


The crime is defined under PC 182, and it makes it a crime to collaborate with people to commit credit card fraud. The offense of conspiracy is often charged alongside credit card fraud if there was an agreement between more than one person to commit an access card fraud, and one party goes through with the deal.

Unauthorized Computer Access

The offense is codified under PC 502 as unauthorized access to a computer. The crime occurs when you access a computer, computer data, or network without consent from the owner and to commit an unlawful act.

Find a San Jose Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

The criminal justice system has helped a lot of people who have been victims of credit card fraud. However, the system has its imperfections too because of inadequate investigation and falsification of information. A lot of people have been wrongfully convicted and suffered long term consequences of fraud crimes because of these imperfections. California Criminal Lawyer Group is available to help you avoid these consequences and to prove your innocence. Contact us today at 408-622-0204 for a free consultation.