Few people use cash anymore to make purchases or pay bills. In today’s electronic age, most people do the bulk of their financial transactions online and with bank cards. Paper currency has made way for plastic for the majority of Americans in the 21st century. As a result of monetary transactions being accomplished electronically far more often than they are in cold hard cash or even via check, crimes involving fraud or theft by credit card or debit card are, not surprisingly, also on the rise across America. The state of California is no exception. Theft offenses involving credit cards and debit cards have risen dramatically over the last decade. Regardless of how you happen to come across someone else’s credit or debit card, before you consider using it ask yourself, “can I be arrested for theft by a credit or debit card in California?”
Both state and federal laws make it illegal to do a number of things with credit or debit cards. The overarching theme in most of those laws is that if you use someone else’s card or their card information in a way that intentionally deprives the owner of something of value and you gain something from the transaction or activity, you are likely breaking the law.
The California Penal Code has several sections that address crimes involving the use of credit or debit cards and/or the information contained on the cards. Simply possessing a credit card that is stolen, even if you did not use the card, could land you in trouble with the authorities. If you actually use the card, or the card information, you are violating California Penal Code 484g which makes it a crime to use a credit or debit card, with the intent to defraud, to obtain money, services, goods, or anything else of value.
If the value of the goods, services, money etc. is less than $950 you will be charged with theft. If the value is over $950 you will be charged with grand theft. It is important to note that when determining whether to charge a suspect with theft or grand theft the total value over a six month period is used. In other words, if you used a credit card that was not yours, and for which you did not have permission to use, and made a purchase last week for something valued at $600 and then made additional purchases this week for items valued at $600 you could be charged with grand theft because the aggregate value is over $950. You can also be charged under the same statute if you use an altered, forged, expired, or counterfeit credit or bank card.
Theft by a credit or debit card can take many forms, such as:
- Using a credit/debit card you know is stolen to purchase goods or merchandise
- Using a counterfeit card to purchase goods or merchandise
- Using someone else’s card without their consent
- Using your own card when you know it was revoked or you know you are past your credit limit
- Using a stolen card to receive goods or services
If you have been charged with theft by credit card, theft by debit card or a related offense in California, you could be facing jail time as well as a potential felony conviction on your permanent record. The penalties for theft related crimes involving a credit or debit card in California vary depending on the actual crime with which you are charged and convicted. Theft, under California law, is a misdemeanor which is punishable by up to a year in jail. Grand theft is what is referred to as a “wobbler” under California law. A “wobbler” is an offense that can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony at the prosecuting attorney’s discretion. Many of the credit card crimes are felonies in California. Forgery and grand theft, for example, may both be charged as a felony theft offense, punishable by 16 months, two, or three years in county jail and a maximum $10,000 fine if you are convicted.
There are a variety of defenses that may be available in your case if you have been charged with theft involving a credit card or debit card. An experienced California criminal defense attorney can review the specific facts and circumstances of your case and provide you with an opinion with regard to the potential defenses. For example, if you have been charged with theft by credit card or theft by debit card in California, you may have a defense to the crime if you lacked the intent to defraud. This, along with any other potential defenses, should be discussed at length with your attorney. Contact San Diego criminal defense attorney Domenic J. Lombardo at (619) 232-5122 for a free and confidential consultation.