Stolen credit cards are a booming black market industry in Los Angeles. Millions of dollars of merchandise are purchased using stolen credit cards each year. Law enforcement has harnesses several technological advances in order to stop this type of fraud. However, this renewed effort to police credit card fraud has led officers into a rush to judgment in many cases. Frequently, simple misunderstandings have led to unfortunate arrests in Los Angeles.
These arrests can have a tremendous impact on your life. Credit card theft carries steep fines and the potential for significant jail time if convicted. There are also collateral consequences that follow a fraud conviction, including challenges in finding employment or housing. A conviction for credit card fraud can impact your personal reputation and make it all but impossible to obtain any kind of financing.
If you are facing charges of credit card fraud in Los Angeles, you deserve a skilled criminal defense lawyer that will vigorously represent you. Credit card fraud can result in either state or federal charges, so the experience level of your legal counsel is important. To speak with a skilled credit card fraud defense lawyer, contact Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Vitaly Sigal today.
What is Credit Card Fraud in California?
Credit card fraud is a general term for any fraud offense that involves the misuse of a credit card. This can involve fraudulent transactions in person or online. There are many different types of credit card fraud; some involve fraudulently using a valid card while others relate to obtain credit using a false identity.
Credit card fraud is prosecuted by the State of California as well as the federal government. Some examples of credit card fraud include:
- Lying on an application for credit;
- Using a stolen credit card;
- Using your own credit card despite knowing it has been canceled; or
- Using someone else's credit card without permission.
Both state and federal law bars the fraudulent use of credit or debit cards. However, neither entity addresses these crimes with a single statute. While federal law has three offenses commonly used in credit card fraud, there are six charges under California state law.
Credit Card Fraud Under Federal Law
Federal law takes a harsh view of any activity that fraudulently disrupts interstate commerce. Any illegal or fraudulent use of a credit card or debit card is treated harshly on each use, meaning the penalties can really stack up. The three federal crimes related to credit card fraud are:
- 15 U.S.C. § 1644 (fraudulent credit card)
- 15 U.S.C. §1693n (fraudulent debit card)
- 18 U.S.C. §1028 (fraudulent identity).
Section 1644 is the federal crime directly related to credit cards. Any violation of this statute carries a fine of up to $10,000, a prison sentence of no more than ten years, or both. The penalties apply to each fraudulent transaction, meaning the penalty for multiple fraudulent uses one a single credit card could be significant. The statute relates to any card that is altered, forged, stolen, or obtained through other fraudulent means. It is a crime under the statute to:
- Use, attempt to use, or conspire to use a fraudulent credit card;
- Transport a fraudulent credit card over state lines;
- Selling a fraudulent card using interstate commerce;
- Receive or conceal goods purchased with a fraudulent card; or
- Furnishing money or property through a fraudulent card.
Federal prosecutors aggressively pursue credit card fraud charges due to their wide reach and the impact they have on interstate commerce. These prosecutors will carefully follow the paper trail from one transaction to the next in an effort to identify anyone in violation of the statute. In addition to paper records, prosecutors and law enforcement will also investigate individual transactions and all of the facts surrounding them.
Because these charges fall under federal law, they are exclusively brought in federal court. Defending a case in federal court is significantly different than under state law. It requires an understanding of federal rules and a familiarity with federal sentencing guidelines. The Sigal Law Group has extensive experience taking on federal charges and obtaining favorable outcomes.
Credit Card Fraud Under State Law
There is no one common statute under California state law that is intended to target credit card fraud specifically. The concept of credit card fraud is broad, which is there is a long list of statutes that could potentially apply to credit card fraud depending on the circumstances. The majority of fraudulent acts related to credit card fraud are covered by California Penal Code Section 484. Under this statute, it is unlawful to:
- Steal credit cards;
- Forge credit card information;
- Fraudulently use another person's card;
- Commit fraud by a retailer;
- Create counterfeit credit cards; or
- Publish credit card information.
Under state law, some of these charges are misdemeanors, while others count as felonies. Regardless of the charge, they each carry the potential for jail time. Dealing with a state prosecutor is far different than handling a federal case. It is beneficial to follow the guidance of an attorney with years of state court experience.
Common Defenses of Credit Card Fraud in California
Charges of credit card fraud are defensible. Despite the wide array of potential statutes that could apply, the defenses for these charges are commonly the same. Some of the most popular defenses to credit card fraud charges include:
Fraud Did Not Occur
The simplest defense to credit card fraud is that fraud did not occur. Many credit card fraud cases begin with a misunderstanding. If you can establish that you did have authorization to use a card that was never stolen, the charges against you could be dropped.
Credit card fraud rarely has witnesses, as the bulk of it occurs online. Since that is the case, it is often difficult for law enforcement to positively identify the culprit. If you were falsely accused of fraud, you can argue that the crime was committed by someone else.
Contact a Los Angeles Credit Card Fraud Defense Lawyer Today
The consequences resulting from a credit card fraud conviction are severe. To fight your charges, enlist the help of the Sigal Law Group right away.