Credit Card Fraud Law




What is Credit Card Fraud Law?

Credit card fraud law establishes criminal penalties for the deceptive or unauthorized use of another person’s credit card account in an attempt to steal money, goods, or services. Statutes prohibiting these types of crimes have been enacted at all levels of government. They are enforced by a number of agencies, from local police departments to the U.S. Secret Service. While resources are available to help victims of credit card fraud, attorneys practicing in this area of the law mostly deal with the issue from a criminal defense perspective.

Types of Credit Card Fraud Crimes

Schemes to gain control of credit card accounts are constantly evolving in order to evade law enforcement, but the most common crimes can be characterized in one of two ways. “Card present” crimes are those in which the victim’s physical credit card has been stolen. This category also includes schemes to apply for new credit cards in the victim’s name, or to change the address on the victim’s account and then request replacement cards. However it is accomplished, the thief comes into possession of the card itself, which is then used for purchases or cash advances.

All other types of credit card fraud fall under the category of “card not present” crimes. As the name suggests, these schemes do not require the thief to gain access to the victim’s physical card, or if they do, the card is returned to the victim without raising suspicion. The fraud is accomplished by recording the credit card number and other identifying information so it can be used online, over the phone, or in some other way that does not require the card to be swiped at the point of sale.

Card not present schemes can be the most difficult to detect, as the thief and the victim may be thousands of miles apart at the time the credit card information is stolen. Skimming machines placed onto ATMs and gas pump terminals are one example. These devices go unnoticed by customers, and secretly capture card data when the customer slides the card through the machine. Phishing websites are another example. These are fake websites that are built to appear like legitimate sites of companies that people trust with their financial information. Victims are tricked into logging into the fake site and entering their credit card number.

Penalties for a Conviction

When legislatures draft criminal statutes dealing with credit card fraud, an attempt is not made to identify and specifically prohibit every potential scheme. Rather, these laws are usually written in general terms meant to encompass the various types of fraudulent behavior, and then penalties are assigned based on the total dollar value of the items or cash obtained in the scheme.

For example, a typical state statute might make credit card fraud a misdemeanor if no property is obtained with the stolen card, or if the property does not exceed a modest amount such as $500. Such a crime would carry a maximum fine of $1,000 or so, and a sentence of up to one year in the county jail. As the value of the property received increases, so does the penalty. Felony credit card fraud in which property of significant value was obtained might be punishable by a $25,000 fine and 15 years in prison. Of course, anyone charged under a particular statute should research the penalties in that jurisdiction, or consult with a lawyer for assistance.

Criminal Defense for the Accused

Facing prosecution for any kind of white collar crime is a terrifying experience, but charges of credit card fraud can take an even greater toll on the defendant. Unlike other lesser-known financial crimes, credit card fraud carries a certain stigma, likely a result of the abundance of media coverage and public outcry over the problem of identity theft in recent years. This means local prosecutors are inclined to “make an example” of the defendant, making sure the community has the opportunity to see that those who commit these frauds are not treated leniently.

For those who plan to plead guilty, the public’s hostility toward credit card fraud makes it especially important to retain an experienced criminal defense attorney. It will be the attorney’s job to reason with the judge, so that he or she will come to understand the defendant’s personal circumstances, sorrow for past conduct, and commitment to leading a better life. For defendants who plan on going to trial, the attorney must review all of the state’s evidence for discrepancies, conduct an independent investigation, develop a winning trial strategy, and then present the case to the jury in convincing fashion. These are not tasks accused individuals should attempt on their own.

Retaining a Credit Card Fraud Attorney

A skilled credit card fraud attorney can be a powerful ally in the battle to prove one’s innocence or ensure a fair sentence is handed down. If you have been arrested, you need to know exactly how bad of a situation you are in, and what can be done about it. Contact an attorney now to have your questions answered.

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