Credit card and debit card fraud is a form of white-collar crime that costs merchants, banks, and credit issuers in the U.S. billions of dollars in losses each year. While the proliferation of the internet and related technological advances has made credit card fraud easier to commit and more difficult to detect, state and federal prosecutors take this offense very seriously. A conviction for credit card fraud carries significant penalties, including imprisonment and fines, and having a permanent criminal record will diminish your future prospects. Given such harsh consequences, it is critically important to be represented by an experienced fraud defense attorney.
Benjamin Law Firm, conveniently located in El Paso, routinely defends clients against credit card fraud charges throughout the state of Texas. As a former prosecutor, founding attorney Brock Benjamin has a well-earned reputation as a tough opponent at trial. Well-versed in the state and federal laws applicable to credit card fraud, our firm is guided by a principle that anyone accused of white-collar crime is entitled to the presumption of innocence, as well as to the powerful legal representation we are prepared to provide.
When you become our client, we will protect your rights and make sure you are treated fairly by the criminal justice system. Our experience handling white-collar crimes allows us to anticipate the tactics prosecutors are likely to use to gain a conviction. After carefully weighing the strength of the evidence against you, we will work tirelessly to preserve your freedom and restore your reputation.
What is credit card fraud?
Credit card fraud is a form of identity theft that involves the unauthorized use of a credit card or debit card, or any similar form of credit information, for the purpose of making purchases on the account, withdrawing funds from it, or obtaining unlawful financial gain with the intention of avoiding payment.
In particular, credit card fraud can be classified as a “card present” crime or a “card not present” crime. A card present crime occurs when the physical card has been stolen or counterfeited and is then used for purchases or cash advances. While the card may have been stolen from the victim’s person, the scheme may also involve applying for credit cards in the victim’s name or changing the address on the victim’s account and then requesting replacement cards.
A card not present crime, by contrast, involves the theft of credit card data for use online, over the phone, or any other means that does not require the card to be presented at the point of sale. This data can be stolen through a skimming machine placed into an ATM or gas pump terminal, through online phishing, or through theft of a business customer’s credit information. The proliferation of online shopping invariably lends itself to the rise of card not present fraud.
Credit Card Abuse Charges in Texas
In Texas, credit card fraud is classified as credit card abuse. Under Texas Penal Code § 32.31, credit card or debit card abuse occurs when an individual:
- Presents a credit card or debit card with the intention of obtaining some benefit, knowing the card was not his/hers and without the owner’s consent
- Knowingly presents a credit or debit card that has expired, been revoked or canceled with the intent to obtain some benefit
- Uses a fictitious credit or debit card or a fictitious card number to obtain some benefit
- Knowingly receives a benefit that was illegally obtained
- Steals a credit card or knowingly receives a stolen credit card with intent to use, sell, or to transfer it to a person other than the issuer or rightful owner
- Buys a credit or debit card from a person he or she knows is not the issuer
- Sells a credit card or debit card, not being the issuer
- Uses, or induces the cardholder to use, a credit or debit card to obtain a benefit the cardholder is unable to pay
- Possesses and intends to use a credit or debit card he or she does not own without the owner’s consent
- Possesses two or more incomplete credit or debit cards that have not been issued to him or her with the intent to complete the cards without consent of the issuer
What are the penalties for credit card fraud in Texas?
The penalties for credit card abuse or fraud vary depending on the circumstances. Generally, credit card fraud is considered a state jail felony, punishable by 180 days to 2 years in jail and/or a fine of up to $10,000. If the offense is committed against an elderly person or the defendant has 2 prior state jail felony convictions, the charge is elevated to a third-degree felony and a conviction can result in a prison sentence ranging from 2 to 10 years and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
Federal Credit Card Fraud Charges
Credit card schemes that involve either the mail or the internet can result in federal charges under different statutes. Under U.S. Code Title 15 § 1644, it is unlawful to:
- Use, attempt or conspire to use a credit card in a transaction affecting interstate or foreign commerce
- Transport, attempt or conspire to transport a credit card in interstate commerce
- Use interstate commerce to sell or transport a credit card
- Receive goods obtained by unlawful use of a credit card
- Receive tickets for interstate or foreign transportation obtained by unlawful use of a credit card
- Furnish money, property, services or anything valued at $1,000 or more through the unlawful use of a credit card
A conviction under this statute is punishable by up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine not to exceed $10,000.
Another type of credit card fraud prosecuted under federal law is known as access device fraud, which is a violation of the Credit Card Fraud Act (U.S.C. Title 18 §1029). Under this statute, it is unlawful to knowingly, and with intent to defraud, use, produce, or traffic in counterfeit access devices to obtain money, goods, services or anything valued at $1,000 or more. An access device includes cards, codes, plates, account numbers, debit cards, ATM cards, gas cards, other means of plastic payment, or a merchant account number used to perform credit purchases. In the end, a violation of the Credit Card Fraud Act can result in a prison sentence of 10 to 15 years, depending on the offense, and a fine of up to $10,000; a second offense is punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison.
Whether you are facing state or federal credit card fraud or access device fraud charges, the best decision you can make to protect your rights, your freedom, and your future is to seek out a first-rate credit card fraud attorney. When you consult Benjamin Law Firm, you can rest assured we will stand by you every step of the way. Backed by a proven history of achieving successful outcomes in state and federal court, criminal defense attorney Brock Benjamin is the informed choice in credit card fraud.
Common Credit Card Fraud Schemes
Credit fraud is a broad term for the unlawful use of another’s credit to obtain a financial benefit (e.g. cash, goods, services) with the intention of evading payment. In particular, credit card fraud may involve opening new accounts with stolen personal information, taking over existing accounts, making purchases without the card being present, using a counterfeit credit or debit card, or using a lost or stolen card. Let’s take a look at some of the common forms of credit card fraud in Texas.
Application fraud occurs when a person’s identifying information is stolen and used to open an account in the victim’s name. Information can be obtained by stealing mail, such as utility bills and bank statements to obtain the victim’s name, address, phone number, Social Security number, and other details. Alternatively, thieves may create fake identification documents to open accounts or take out a loan in the victim’s name. The debts will appear on the victim’s credit report until he or she contests the charges.
An account takeover occurs when a party attempts to assume control of a customer’s account from service providers such as credit card issuers, banks, or internet and email service providers; the majority of account takeovers involve credit card fraud. Rather than stealing credit card numbers, which can be changed after the user reports the cards lost or stolen, account takeovers occur when parts of the victim’s identity, such as an email address, are used to gain access to financial accounts. Communications from the issuer are subsequently intercepted, keeping the victim unaware of unlawful activity until unauthorized charges or multiple questionable withdrawals appear on monthly statements. Account takeovers are often attempted through cyber attacks, phishing and malware, while less sophisticated thieves may steal discarded mail with identifying information from the victim’s garbage.
Skimming, one of the most common credit card fraud schemes, occurs when small electronic devices known as skimmers are installed on ATMs or card readers in retail outlets, gas stations, restaurants, and cash machines elsewhere. These devices capture data containing identifying information about the cardholder stored on magnetic strip of the card with each swipe. Skimmers are often used in conjunction with a hidden camera around the ATM to simultaneously read the victim’s personal identification number (PIN).
Skimming can also occur at restaurants or bars when an employee has possession of the victim’s credit or debit card out of the victim’s immediate view. Although skimming is usually difficult for cardholders to detect, card issuers have sophisticated tools to search for patterns of fraud, often through data-mining algorithms that discover connections between fraudulent transactions and merchant locations.
Phishing scams are used to convince individuals to divulge personal identifying information to what they believe are legitimate service providers or government agencies, while computer hacking can lead to credit card data being stolen through the internet. Personal identifying information, including names, dates of birth, and Social Security numbers is then often sold on the “dark web.” Individuals who facilitate the sale, purchase and use of unlawfully obtained credit information without authorization can face state and federal criminal charges. The use of the internet to commit credit card fraud can also lead to wire fraud charges.
Lost or Stolen Card
A simple form of credit card fraud occurs when lost or stolen credit or debit cards are used to make purchases before the cardholder reports them missing.
A credit card can also be stolen in transit after being issued by the credit card company, typically from the victim’s mailbox, and then used to make purchases or withdraw funds.
Corporate/Company credit card fraud
This type of credit card fraud occurs when an employee improperly uses a corporate or company credit card to obtain cash or make purchases. Such misuse of company funds is also considered to be a form of embezzlement. Corporate and company cards are also at risk of being cloned through skimming or counterfeiting operations (or access device fraud).
Merchant credit card fraud
This form of credit card fraud occurs when a merchant is defrauded in relation to a credit purchase. At times, a buyer who purchased an item or used a service claims the transaction was illegitimate. The credit card company then issues a chargeback, which means the money paid to the merchant is taken back by the issuer and returned to the buyer. Buyers who deny legitimate transactions in which they willingly participated may be charged with credit card fraud for seeking a chargeback without justification. Finally, merchants are also at risk of credit card fraud if the company’s identity is stolen and processing charges are made by cloned or stolen credit cards.
These are among the many examples of credit card fraud schemes. If you have been accused of being involved in such a scheme, you may be charged with credit card fraud, identity theft, and a host of other state and federal crimes. This is why it is crucial to enlist the services of Benjamin Law Firm. Our credit card fraud attorneys will leverage their knowledge and experience to achieve the best possible outcome for your case.
Credit Card Fraud and Identity Theft
Credit card fraud charges can also result in identity theft charges. Identity theft occurs when a party uses another individual’s personal identifying information, including credit or debit card information without permission for personal gain. A conviction for identity theft can be charged as a state jail felony, or a felony of the third, second or first degree, depending on the circumstances. The penalties may be elevated if the defendant has a prior felony conviction, committed identity theft against an elder, caused death or serious bodily injury to another person during the commission of the crime, and/or used a weapon while committing or attempting to steal another person’s identity (such as while stealing a purse).
Credit Card Fraud/Mail Fraud/Wire Fraud
A party who uses the mail or another delivery service to engage in credit card fraud may also face mail fraud charges while using the internet (e.g. phishing, hacking) to obtain personal information can result in wire fraud charges. Mail fraud and wire fraud are both state and federal offenses. The penalties for mail and wire fraud under state law are significant, ranging from 5 years in prison and fines up to $250,000 in less severe cases, to up to 30 years in prison and $1 million in fines in aggravated cases.
Defenses to Credit Card Fraud in Texas
To gain a conviction for credit card or access device fraud, prosecutors must be able to show that you acted with intent to defraud, knowingly used, possessed, produced or trafficked in one or more credit cards, or that you obtained money, goods or services with unauthorized credit card or access device. Federal charges can be brought if it can be shown that your conduct had an effect on interstate or foreign commerce. Nonetheless, proving “knowledge” and “intent” are high bars for the state and federal prosecutors.
Our experienced white collar crimes attorneys know how to assert a number of valid defenses against credit card fraud, such as:
- You did not have the intent to commit credit card fraud
- You lacked knowledge that you were committing credit card fraud
- You were coerced into participating in a crime you otherwise would not have committed
- You had the cardholder’s permission to access the account
We will conduct a thorough investigation, assess the state’s evidence, and choose the best line of defense. By encouraging your participation in your case and offering you objective insights, we will work together to make the best decisions about your future.
Why Call Benjamin Law Firm?
Being charged with a white-collar crime such as credit card fraud in Texas is a serious matter. Not only will a conviction result in the loss of your freedom; the collateral damage to your reputation can follow you for years, interfering with employment prospects, especially if you are seeking work in banking or finance. Having a permanent criminal record as a convicted felon will also make it more difficult to rent an apartment. You may also lose some of your civil rights, such as the right to vote or to own or possess a firearm, and forfeit your eligibility for certain professional licenses and government benefits. When your freedom, good name, and future are on the line, you need a tough, agile credit card fraud defense attorney in your corner.
What sets Benjamin Law Firm apart is founding attorney Brock Benjamin’s experience as a prosecutor and his dedication to excellence in criminal defense. The fact that he is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization places Brock in the upper echelon of practicing attorneys in the state of Texas. Of course, he is also well-schooled in the applicable state and federal credit card fraud statutes and has successfully defended clients in multiple jurisdictions throughout Texas and New Mexico.
Armed with firsthand knowledge of the tactics state and federal prosecutors use to gain convictions in credit card and access device fraud cases, our legal team will work to achieve the best possible outcome for your matter. A well-conceived defense starts with conducting a thorough investigation and combing through the vast amount of data that is typically associated with a credit card fraud case. Benjamin Law Firm has sufficient skills and resources for the task and typically relies on advanced technology such as e-discovery to structure a defense strategy against credit card fraud. When necessary, we also work with a network of financial and forensic experts to assess the strength of the state’s evidence.
Although credit card fraud is a common white-collar crime, each case is unique, which is why we tailor our defense strategy to your specific charges. Knowing that proving knowledge and intent is necessary for a conviction, we will mount an aggressive defense. Our objective is to win an acquittal or even a dismissal of the charges. At the same time, we will be completely honest about your prospects at trial. Depending on the circumstances, we may seek to have the charges and penalties reduced. Above all, you can trust us to always put your best interests first.
Knowing that you may have never confronted the criminal justice system, we will take the time to explain all of your rights, give you an idea of what to expect at trial, and make sure you are treated fairly. Guided by a principle that anyone who has been charged with credit card fraud in Texas is innocent until proven guilty, will offer you the aggressive legal representation you need and the personal attention you deserve. We will keep you fully informed about the status of your case, and are always available to respond to your questions and concerns.
Regardless of the charges you are facing, our legal team will treat you with dignity and respect. At Benjamin Law Firm, your rights, your freedom, and your future are our priority. If you or someone you know has been charged with credit card fraud in Texas, contact our office today for a free evaluation of your case.