In the current tough economic climate, many people are relying on credit cards to pay their bills. They will buy groceries, gas, and school supplies on credit, just as they pay their utilities with credit. Unfortunately, some people are tempted to use another person’s credit card without permission. This is a classic example of credit card fraud. At Tad Nelson & Associates, we have defended many people charged with credit card abuse and fraud. Contact our League City criminal defense lawyer for more information about whether we can help.
Examples of Credit Card Fraud & Abuse
Under the law, you can use a credit card that belongs to you. You can also use a card if the owner has given you permission to use it. Most credit card abuse consists of using a card in an unauthorized manner, such as:
- Stealing someone’s card and using it to buy items.
- Using someone’s credit card number without permission to make online purchases.
- Making purchases with someone’s card when you did not have permission to use it for that purpose.
- Finding a credit card on the ground or on the bus and using it as if it is yours.
- Using a credit card that has expired or been revoked.
- Buying a credit card from someone other than an issuer.
However, not paying your credit card bill is not fraud. That can ruin your credit and result in a lawsuit for the amount you owe, but it’s not illegal to fail to pay a bill.
How You Can Get Caught
Some folks commit credit card fraud because they think no one will find out. If they find a credit card on the ground, their initial thought might be, “Why not?” They pick up the card and start using it.
However, law enforcement can easily find out if someone has used a credit card that doesn’t belong to them. For example, someone will report that they have lost their card. The credit card company then sees that someone has made purchases with it. Law enforcement could go to the store where the card was used and look at surveillance video to identify you. Or, if you made a purchase online, you might have shipped items to your home. That’s an easy way for the police to identify you!
Some people participate in “phishing” scams to get financial information from victims. The scammer might pretend to be a bank employee or a vendor asking for a credit card number. They then use the number to buy stuff for themselves or sell the numbers to someone else.
It’s never a good idea to help yourself to someone’s card. And if a person does let you borrow the card to make a specific purchase—like getting your muffler repaired—you can’t use the card for a different purpose, like a weekend out in Vegas.
Penalties for Credit Card Fraud
This is a serious offense. Typically, fraud charges depend on the amount of goods you stole. But credit card fraud will be charged as a state jail felony in Texas, regardless of whether you ended up buying something illegally or not. A state jail felony can send you to jail for up to two years, with a maximum $10,000 fine on top.
Even worse, if you defrauded a person 65 or older, you can face enhanced penalties—specifically, third degree felony charges, which could send you to prison for up to 10 years.
Let Our Galveston Fraud Defense Attorney Review Your Case
There might be an innocent explanation for why you were using or trying to use someone else’s credit card. For example, an elderly relative could have given it to you and then forgotten that fact. This is a tricky situation. Obviously, you can’t take advantage of an elderly person whose memory is fading, but there might be a legitimate mix-up about what you were going to use the card for.
In other cases, you might argue that someone else used the stolen card number, even if they were using your computer. Maybe someone who lives with you stole the card number and started making purchases.
The state also needs solid evidence of your intent to fraudulently use the card. That is sometimes lacking. As an example, a card might have expired when you pull it out to use at a store. You do this without knowing it has expired, so that is not fraud. If we can create reasonable doubt, then you can beat the charges.
Call Us to Speak about Your Criminal Charges
Tad Nelson is an experienced criminal defense attorney in Galveston and League City. Call our office to schedule a free consultation.