Under California law, it is a criminal offense to perform any fraudulent activity involving credit cards or access cards. It is also against the law to use any information found on a credit card to execute fraud. You are guilty if you have a fraudulent intent to deceive another person or entity and making him or her suffer loss while you benefit. Credit card fraud may attract misdemeanor or felony charges because of the varying circumstances and damages of the crime. If you are facing credit card fraud charges, the Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm can help you come up with a good defense to fight the charges. 

Credit Card Fraud Under California Law

Using or attempting to use either a debit or credit card unlawfully is a crime. The law also prohibits the use or attempt to use the information contained in a debit or credit card unlawfully. You cannot be convicted for a credit card fraud unless the court proves that you had the intent to use a card or the credit card details in an intentionally fraudulent manner. Your intent is fraudulent if your use of an unlawfully acquired credit card may yield an undeserved benefit to you and inflict losses on another person or entity. 

Some common examples of credit card fraud include taking another person's credit card and using it without their consent or knowledge. You may also face credit card fraud charges if you use your credit card knowing that the card has expired or has been revoked. If you fraudulently use your credit card and the available balance is less than the price of the product you are purchasing, you may face card fraud charges. It is also a crime under California law to use a fraudulent or stolen credit card to access money or other goods and services. 

It is unlawful to forge, alter, steal, counterfeit, disseminate to another individual, or publish credit card/debit card information. The applicable penalties for credit card theft depend on the specific type of crime you commit. Generally, California law punishes credit card crimes as petty theft, forgery, or grand theft.

Can You Face Federal Crime Charges for Credit Card Fraud?

You may face federal credit card fraud charges for any fraud crime committed against a government entity or establishment;  credit card fraud that involves government property also qualifies as a federal offense. Under the California federal crimes, there are more than 100 offenses, including credit card fraud against the government. You may face either alternative federal criminal charges or additional federal crime charges (on top of normal credit card fraud charges). Title Eighteen (18) of the United States Code under Sec. 1029 prohibits credit card fraud, which is a white-collar crime. 

If you face a federal credit card fraud charge, the applicable penalties are much higher than penalties for state law violations. You may incur hefty fines for a federal fraud crime and serve jail time of up to 20 years. In the United States, credit card fraud is a prevalent crime. In attempting to curb credit card crime, various government agencies have come up. Some leading anti-credit card fraud organizations include the -FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) among other organizations.

Common Credit Card Fraud Crimes

If you are a credit card holder, chances are that you may become a victim of credit card fraud at some point in your life. The increase in online payments and other e-commerce activities has led to an increase in credit card fraud. Massive data breaches are common, and when they occur, they leave people’s consumer information open to manipulation through theft and fraud that may include the opening of new credit cards.

You may also experience credit card fraud on a smaller scale. For instance, you may lose your wallet, and another person collects it and uses your credit card without your knowledge or consent. It is also common for a close friend or family member to access your social security information and use it to open a credit card in your name. 

Several statutes prohibit credit card fraud under California law. Every statute prohibits a specific credit card offense. Some common credit card frauds include:

Handling Stolen Credit Cards – California 484e PC

You can be guilty of fraudulent possession of a credit card under California 484e PC if you acquire, transfer, or sell a credit card or information contained therein without an approval/agreement of the cardholder. You can be guilty even if you do not execute the intended fraud as long as the court can establish that you had the intent to commit fraud.

You may face charges for stolen cards under California law 484e PC even when the credit or access card you fraudulently possess is invalid. For example, Peter violates a traffic law, and law enforcement officers stop his vehicle. The officer request for   Peter's identification documents; as Peter retrieves the documents, the officer notices an access card bearing another person's name. On following up, the officer learns that the rightful access card owner had canceled and discarded the access card but did not close the equity line. Even though card owner had already canceled it, Peter may be liable as the access card had not been lawfully issued to him but another person. 

The crime of fraudulent possession of a credit card does not consider the validity of the illegally possessed card but rather focuses on the fraudulent intent of the offender. The credit card may be revoked, expired, or even canceled; however, as long as you possess a card that was not legally issued to you, you may face fraud charges.  You can still be liable even if you have not yet used the information contained in the credit card. You may still face charges even if the rightful card owner's account has not been charged or billed.

California law under PC 484e punishes most credit card fraud cases as grand theft. Grand theft is a wobbler offense that may attract misdemeanor or felony charges depending on your criminal history and the facts of your case.

For a misdemeanor credit card fraud, the applicable charges may include jail time of up to one year in a California county jail. The court may also require you to pay a fine of up to $ 1,000.

A felony offense under 484e PC may attract jail time of sixteen months, two years, or 3 years in California county jail depending on the extent of the offense. The court may recommend probation and a minimum of one-year jail time in county jail. Felony credit card fraud may attract hefty penalties of up to $ 10,000. 

If you do not sell, transfer, or use a credit card but only retain the possession of the card to use, you may face lesser charges for California Petty theft. Violating the California law relating to petty theft may attract jail time not exceeding six months in a California county jail. You may also pay a fine that does not exceed $ 1,000.

Credit Card Counterfeiting - California Law 484i PC

You may face charges under California 484i PC for possessing a partially complete credit card with the intent of completing it without an approval/ approval of the card issuer. For example, a credit card may be partially complete if it does not feature the issuing bank's logo.

If you alter either front/upper side a credit card or information found in a credit card, you may face counterfeiting charges. For instance, you may be guilty of counterfeiting if you alter the stripe of a credit card intending to use the card for fraudulent purposes. 

You may also be guilty of counterfeiting even if you do not personally alter or manipulate a credit card but allow another individual to change the credit card or the card information.

Counterfeiting credit card charges may also apply if you are in possession, make, exchange, or sell partially complete credit cards or equipment used for making credit cards. You are guilty if you are aware that the person who will receive the card-making equipment or partially complete cards will produce fake/counterfeit cards.   

Crimes under California law 484i PC may either attract misdemeanor or felony charges depending on the facts of the crimes. For instance, you may face misdemeanor charges if you are in possession of a partially complete credit card and you have the aim/intention of completing the card unlawfully. The applicable charges may include jail time of six months or less in county jail and fines not exceeding $1,000.

If you go beyond possessing a partially complete credit card, you alter the card, and the information found on the card, you are guilty of forgery, a crime that may attract either a misdemeanor or felony charges. As outlined under Penal Code 470 PC outlined above in Sec. 2.2, if you are guilty of a felony crime that involves equipment used in making credit cards, you may pay hefty fines not exceeding $10,000. You may serve jail time of sixteen months, two years, or up to three years in a California county jail.

Credit Card Fraud Involving Retailers – California 484h PC

As a retailer, you may violate the California 484h PC if you avail items of value including money, goods, or services to a person who presents to you stolen, forged, counterfeit, or revoked credit card as long as you know the status of a credit card. as counterfeit/stolen

A retailer may also be guilty of credit card theft if he/she avails evidence of credit card/debit card transactions and seeks to get paid yet he/she knowingly withheld or failed to offer goods, services, money, or any other item of value.

A retailer may also commit credit card fraud by availing evidence of credit card/debit card transactions and seeks to get paid an amount, which is higher than the value of goods, services, money, or other items of value provided by the retailer. 

For example, a convenience store may possess some counterfeit or altered/manipulated credit cards and make up some charges for items that were not purchased. If the store makes attempts of collecting payment from credit card firms/companies using the fake sales report, the store owners may be guilty of retailer credit card fraud.

Under the California Penal Code 484h PC, if you receive goods, services, money, or items whose value exceeds $950 within six consecutive months, you will face grand theft charges. For a retailer credit card fraud of less than $950, petty theft charges are applicable. 

Forgery of Credit/Debit/Access Card Information- California 484f PC

If you purposely and illegally alter, create, or use a credit card to make a financial gain, you may face charges under California 484f PC.  You may break this law if you change or manipulate an actual credit card or a debit card. You may also face charges under  484f PC for unlawfully making a counterfeit credit card. You may also face charges if you sign another person's name or details during transactions that involve credit cards without the agreement/approval of the person.  Some examples of this crime include illegally altering your credit card number when making an online purchase to trick the retailer. You may also face charges under 484f PC for signing another person's name when making credit card transactions. 

To be guilty of the offense, you must act with an intent to defraud. To act fraudulently or to defraud involves tricking or trying to trick or persuade a person using dishonest means. 

A liability for forging credit/debit card information falls under the California forgery law 470 PC.  Forgery qualifies as a wobbler under California law and may attract felony or misdemeanor charges depending on the nature and the extent of the offense.  ,

Using Card Information or Account Information in a Fraudulent Manner - California 484g PC

You can face charges under the California 484g PC you obtain money, services, goods, or any other item of value using an illegally acquired credit card/debit card.  An illegally acquired credit card may have been acquired using several illegal means, including counterfeiting, altering, stealing, or forgery. You may also face charges under 484g PC for manipulating and using canceled or revoked credit card. 

The charges you face for an offense under 484g PC are dependent on the value or cost of items accessed using the illegally acquired credit card. For instance, if you acquire goods of value exceeding $ 950 through fraudulent means, you may face grand theft charges. For goods or services below $ 950, you may face petty theft charges.  Petty theft is a misdemeanor offense while grand theft may attract either a misdemeanor or felony charges. 

Unlawful Publishing of Information Contained in a Credit Card - California Law 484j PC

If you publish information regarding a card credit card/debit card, bank account details, another person's PIN, computer login password, or coding which is employed in the issuance of credit cards or access cards, you may face charges under California Law 484j PC for publishing information contained in a credit card.  You are guilty if you publish the information as mentioned earlier with intent or with the knowledge that the information will be used to defraud or aid in defrauding, or to avoid payment of any lawful charge.

Under the California 484j PC, publishing means communicating delicate information in writing, orally, or electronically. An offense under 484j PC is a misdemeanor whose penalties may include either summary probation, jail time not exceeding six months, or fines not exceeding $1,000.

Common Legal Defenses for Credit Card Fraud Charges

If you are facing credit card fraud charges, your attorney may employ certain defense strategies against the fraud charges. You do not have to accept all the charges the prosecutor piles on you; by employing proper defense, the court may reduce or dismiss your fraud charges. Some leading legal defenses for credit card fraud charges include:

Lack of Fraudulent Intent

To be guilty of credit card fraud offense, the prosecutor must prove that you had a fraudulent intent while committing the crime. You may outline that you committed the offense by mistake. You may also claim that you committed the offense of ignorance, but you had no fraudulent intent. For example, you may attempt to make payments for merchandise using an expired credit card. The store owner then sues you and the police arrest for attempting to commit credit card fraud. You can defend yourself by pointing out that you had forgotten to renew your credit card and you did not purposely use an invalid/expired card.

Lack of Sufficient Evidence

Even if the prosecutor can prove that you had fraudulent intent, he must also prove other elements of the crime for you to face credit card fraud charges. For instance, if you are guilty of using a suspended/revoked card, the prosecutor must prove that you were aware that the credit /debit card had been suspended/revoked.

For instance, if you use a suspended card to withdraw money, you may face charges of credit card fraud. However, if the credit card issuer had not notified you of the suspension of a credit card, you can defend yourself by arguing that you were not aware of the suspended status of a credit card.

Mistaken Identity

It is often challenging to identify the real culprit in fraud cases, as most fraud crimes take place/happen behind closed doors.  It is therefore hard to identify the offender with certainty as in most cases; no witnesses are available. Most people fall victim to false accusations and mistaken identity in fraud cases. If you are facing credit card fraud charges for a crime you did not commit; you do not have to worry. You can seek legal defense and prove that you are innocent to the court.

You are not a Retailer

You can use this defense strategy if you face credit card fraud charges under California 484h PC. You can only be guilty under California 484h PC if you are a retailer. A retailer is a person or a company that supplies or sells products and services to the public. You can argue that at the time the crime happened, you were not acting as a retailer and you cannot face charges for retailer credit card fraud.  A retailer may also argue that he/she had no intent to defraud.

You were Falsely Accused

It is common for people to face false accusations of fraud. False accusations are especially common among people who once shared an intimate relationship. If the relationship turns sour, one party may falsely accuse the other out of anger, jealousy, or to seek revenge. For instance, on separating with your spouse, he/she may falsely accuse you of committing credit card fraud as a way of getting back at you. If you successfully prove a case of false accusation, you cannot face credit card fraud charges. 

Approval of the Card Holder

You can only be guilty of committing credit card fraud if you act without the approval of the rightful credit cardholder. At times, the cardholder may be aware of your actions and approve of them.  If you prove in court that the cardholder had consented to your suspicious credit card actions or purchases, you can walk free of charges.

Duress/Forced to Commit the Crime

In some instances, you may commit credit card fraud under duress. For instance, another person may threaten to inflict physical harm or kill you to make you commit credit card fraud. You can defend yourself in court by outlining that you had no fraudulent intent to commit the fraud and neither did you commit the fraud willingly but under duress. 


Especially in cases of credit card counterfeiting, you may defend yourself by asserting that you committed a credit card fraud out of necessity.  You may argue that you had a valid reason to commit the fraud. For instance, you may counterfeit a card due to an emergency.

No Probable Cause

Probable cause refers to a reasonable belief that a person committed a crime. The California law requires the police to have probable cause for stopping or arresting a suspect of a crime. Any evidence that the police may collect after making a wrongful arrest may be excluded from your case. Excluding the evidence may result in a reduction of your charges. Therefore, if you face an arrest without probable cause and face charges for credit card theft, you can challenge the arrest in court. 

Contact an Orange County Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me

If you are facing credit card fraud charges, consider seeking legal representation. At Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we handle all types of credit card fraud charges. Contact us at 714-740-7848 and speak to one of our attorneys. Seeking legal representation can help you come up with a good defense to fight credit card fraud charges.