Is Credit Card Fraud a Felony in California?

Prohibited activities involving access cards, which many are accustomed to calling credit cards, are punishable in several ways in California. The extent of the fraud will determine whether a felony or misdemeanor is charged, and will also determine what potential fines and jail sentences are imposed.

Numerous schemes can fall under credit card fraud, all with varying degrees of penalties. Whether or not the crime is a misdemeanor or felony will depend on the amount taken, among other facts discussed below.

Felony or Misdemeanor

Using payment cards to perpetrate fraudulent activity can fall under six California Penal Code sections:

  • Stolen credit cards, 484e PC – Possessing, acquiring, transferring, or selling cards without another’s express written consent fall under this section.
  • Forging credit card information, 484f PC – Altering names or signing another’s name without permission can fall under this Penal Code section.
  • Fraudulent use of credit card, 484g PC – Attempting to use, or successfully using, an altered, expired, revoked, or stolen credit card to obtain goods or money would be charged under this section.
  • Retailer credit card fraud, 484h PC – Businesses that accepted stolen or altered credit cards, or turn in fraudulent credit card transactions could be charged with credit card fraud.
  • Counterfeiting credit cards, 484i PC – Possessing equipment to create credit cards, or possessing the newly created cards themselves is charged under this section.
  • Publishing stolen credit card information, 484j PC – Involves transferring one’s PIN or other identifying information in a manner that deprives them of use or takes their identity.

Because credit card fraud laws change frequently, it is important to have an attorney who can help clarify laws and perhaps get charges dismissed.

Punishment for Credit Card Fraud in California

If the amount taken is less than $950, it is normally a misdemeanor petty theft charge punishable with up to six months in prison, a fine, and restitution for the amount taken. Anything over $950 could be charged as grand theft, which can be a “wobbler” offense charged as either misdemeanor or felony.

Sections 484e, 484f, and 484i from above are wobbler offenses that go either way, normally indicative to the amount stolen. With section 484g, 484h and 484j, expect petty theft if amount was less than $950, and grand theft if over.

Because credit card fraud punishment in California also takes into account interstate frauds, federal charges may be imposed, too, which carry prison sentences up to 20 years.

Potential Defenses to Credit Card Fraud

Persons who have been accused of any section above must have committed the acts knowingly and willingly. For example, using counterfeit credit cards to purchase goods or request cash advances is innocent if the individual has no idea the card was counterfeited.

Using a roommate’s credit or debit card is also innocent if the cards look similar to the one owned by defendant, and it was picked up accidentally.

If you are unsure whether your alleged crime is a felony in California, and believe you are innocent of all charges, it is important to retain counsel immediately so charges can be disputed.

Been charged with fraudulent use of credit cards or other theft crimes, and believe your case deserves superior representation? Contact James E. Blatt today at 1-877-546-2528.