California Credit Card Fraud Laws
Overview of California Credit Card Fraud Laws
California state laws criminalize a number of activities related to "access cards," which include credit cards, debit cards, and the account numbers of those cards. A prosecutor might charge a defendant with forgery or counterfeiting if the defendant made or altered an access card. The prosecutor might also charge a defendant with forgery if the defendant signed the cardholder's name or a fictitious name in order to use an access card that did not belong to the defendant.
Credit card fraud also occurs when an individual has an intent to fraudulently obtain money, goods, or services by using the access card of a cardholder who has not authorized its use. The individual may have stolen the access card or account information, or obtained a forged or altered access card. In addition, credit card fraud may arise if a cardholder kept an access card which the individual knew to be expired and continued to use the card. The state can charge the unauthorized user with theft.
- Example: A prosecutor may charge an unauthorized user with theft if the unauthorized user pays with a stolen credit card while making a purchase at a store.
If the value of the money, goods, or services obtained through fraudulent use of an access card exceeds $950 within a period of six consecutive months, California law requires prosecution of the user for grand theft. Use of an access card to obtain a lesser-valued amount will likely result in a charge of petty theft.
Defenses to California Credit Card Fraud Charges
- Cardholder's permission to possess or use the access card
Penalties and Sentences
A defendant who made or sold counterfeit access cards, modified or altered incomplete access cards, or possessed or trafficked the equipment used for counterfeiting access cards may be prosecuted for participation in credit card fraud or forgery activities. California law permits a sentence of imprisonment in county jail for a term of up to one year. However, a prosecutor may be able to pursue increased sentencing due to a prior criminal record or related criminal activities.
Credit card fraud prosecuted as theft results in penalties and sentencing set by California state laws to punish petty theft and grand theft. The possible punishment depends on whether the state has convicted the defendant of petty theft or grand theft. A conviction for petty theft may result in a fine of up to $1,000, a term of imprisonment in county jail for up to six months, or both. A conviction for grand theft generally involves more serious consequences. Grand theft may result in a sentence of up to one year in county jail or even an increased sentence when the defendant had a prior criminal record or engaged in related criminal activities.
California Credit Card Fraud Statute
California Penal Code Sections 484-502.9
Note: State laws are constantly changing -- please contact an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.