There’s more to a stolen credit card than just losing access to an essential financial service. A thief can abuse a stolen card to make illegal and fraudulent purchases under your name, damaging your account and saddling you with debt.
This is why credit card fraud is a crime punishable at both the state and federal levels. Stealing a card is one thing, but using it to make fraudulent purchases puts the offense on a level above petty theft. Even if you’re using a friend’s or relative’s credit card to make a purchase, they could accuse you of credit card fraud if they claim your purchases weren’t authorized.
What sort of penalties can you expect for credit card fraud?
California law on credit card fraud
For each type of credit card-related crime, there’s a corresponding penalty.
Under California law, a person who illegally acquires another’s credit card without the owner’s permission and uses the card to make fraudulent purchases is guilty of grand theft. It’s also a crime of grand theft to sell, transfer or reveal credit card information without the owner’s permission. Even holding on to the credit card information of four or more people is a grand theft crime.
Meanwhile, trying to sell off a stolen credit card to someone other than the original cardholder is a crime of petty theft.
A conviction for petty theft may lead to a maximum fine of $1,000 and a county jail sentence of up to six months. However, a grand theft conviction may result in a whole-year prison sentence which could increase if the accused had a prior criminal record.
State law on credit card fraud
Per the United States Code, credit card fraud becomes a federal crime if the card is involved in a fraudulent interstate or foreign transaction. Whether the card was stolen, altered, forged or one that was made for a fictitious person, anyone convicted on the federal level of credit card fraud faces a maximum $10,000 fine and up to ten years in prison.
Credit card fraud is not a victimless crime. Whether you pilfered another person’s card or happened to “borrow” a relative’s payment card, you hurt them by making unauthorized purchases. If you face credit card fraud charges from a state and federal court, consider your legal options carefully.