Credit and debit card fraud is frequently entwined with:
- Identity theft, when one person’s identifying information, such as birth date, residence address, Social Security number, etc. are used to fraudulently obtain financial accounts or to facilitate the commission of other types of fraud. In some instances, an individual accused of credit card fraud may also face identity theft charges.
- Credit fraud, such as when one party uses another person’s Social Security number (or uses a fake SSN) and other information to apply for a credit card, loan, goods or other property. Credit fraud may also occur when an individual provides a fake name and/or address or provides false information about his or her earnings, financial obligations, and ability to repay the loan.
- Check forgery is sometimes related: when an individual steals another person’s credit or debit cards, he or she may also steal unsigned checks for the purposes of fraud.
Have you or a loved one been charged with credit card abuse?
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Texas Credit Card Abuse Laws
Under Texas Penal Code Section 32.31, credit card or debit card abuse involves the use of a credit card or debit card that an individual:
- Realizes is not his or her own credit or debit account (and uses it without consent of the account holder)
- Knows is either expired, canceled, or revoked (even when it is the individual’s own card)
- Knows is a fictitious card: the user presents a fictitious number or dummy card to obtain or receive goods, services, or other benefits
- Steals with the intent to sell or use
- Steals the credit or debit account number of another person
- Receives goods or services with a stolen or illegally-obtained credit card
- Buys from another party, knowing it is stolen
- Sells to another party
- Induces the cardholder to buy products and services (even though the cardholder cannot pay for them)
- Possesses a card that doesn’t belong to him or her and intends to use it
According to Texas law, it isn’t necessary for the accused to use a stolen debit or credit card to face fraud charges. For instance, if an individual steals a credit card and the prosecution proves that he or she intended to use it, a conviction might be possible.
In addition, an individual doesn’t need to possess the physical credit or debit card to be arrested or charged with credit card abuse. Merely typing another person’s credit or debit card account number into a website page to complete a transaction online can lead to criminal charges if the account holder didn’t authorize you to do so.
Texas Credit and Debit Card Abuse Punishments
An offense in the statute is punishable as a state jail felony, or as a third-degree felony when the offender commits credit card abuse against an elderly individual:
- If convicted of a state jail felony, the offender faces six months to two years in a state jail and fines of up to $10,000.
- If convicted of a third-degree felony, the offender faces two to 10 years in a Texas state prison and fines of up to $10,000.
Penalties for Other Fraud Crimes in Texas
Check forgery is considered a Texas state jail felony. Stealing a check or receiving a stolen check is considered a Class A misdemeanor. Credit fraud is punishable by the amount sum stolen.
Identity theft punishments vary by the number of personal identification items stolen:
- If the defendant allegedly stole five items, he or she faces a state jail felony punishable by at least 180 days to two years in a Texas state jail and/or fines of up to $10,000.
- If the defendant allegedly stole at least five but less than 10 personal identification items, he or she faces a third-degree felony charge punishable by two – 10 years in a Texas prison and/or fines of up to $10,000.
- If the defendant allegedly stole at least 10 but less than 50 personal identification items, he or she faces a second-degree felony charge punishable by two – 20 years in a Texas prison and/or fines of up to $10,000.
- If the defendant allegedly stole at least 50 or more personal identification items, he or she faces a first-degree felony charge punishable by at least five years (up to 99 years or life in prison) and/or fines of up to $10,000.
If the defendant is convicted of identity theft, the judge may order him or her to pay restitution, including expenses or lost income victims incurred in attempts to resolve issues created by the identity theft.
How Credit Card and Debit Card Abuse Are Investigated
Law enforcement agencies continue to refine the methods used to detect or stop credit card fraud. Although a stolen credit card case may be relatively easy to solve after the cardholder reports the theft, this isn’t the only means used by the police and other agencies to investigate credit card abuse.
Additional investigative techniques include:
- A retailer or cashier reports suspicious activity
- The card issuer or law enforcement professionals trace the unauthorized purchases made online
- The fraudulent credit card or debit card user is caught in a sting operation
- The cardholder reports his or her stolen card to law enforcement
Many cards bear the cardholder’s full name and his or her photo. In some cases, an alert cashier notices that the card user doesn’t look like the cardholder’s image.
Testimony of the retail employee plus security camera footage may lead to an arrest of the card user.
Law enforcement professionals can trace credit or debit cards used to transact online purchases as well. If the card user has a fixed IP address or uses a public computer with security cameras in force, it may be possible for the police or other agents to track down the illegal users and his or her location.
Hackers and other information thieves are in the news almost daily. These individuals steal credit card information when cardholders transmit account information online. Police and other law enforcement agencies sometimes appear as sellers or buyers or stolen card information as part of a sting operation.
Texas Credit Card Abuse and the Statute of Limitations
If you committed credit card or debit card abuse some time ago, you may be interested to learn that the statute of limitations for the crime is seven years. The statute of limitations describes the period of time in which the state of Texas can press charges and bring the accused to trial.
In some circumstances, the statute of limitations may be suspended or tolled, such as:
- When the accused lives out of state, is serving time in jail or prison, or cannot otherwise stand trial
- The actual statute of limitations in which an individual may be charged with credit card abuse may be longer than seven years for this reason
Credit Card Fraud Cases in Texas
Credit and debit card fraud is big news in Texas:
- Police in Tyler, TX took at least four individuals involved in a credit card fraud ring into custody. The defendants allegedly committed access device fraud, using illegally-obtained credit card numbers to obtain goods and services via the Internet. Police said most victims were unaware that the perpetrators were using their credit card information.
- Two Mexican citizens allegedly stole credit card information at the Texas-Mexico border. They possessed at least 96 stolen credit cards.
- A man in Cleveland stole $5,000 of prepaid bank cards to buy diesel fuel. When he was arrested, police learned he was driving with an invalid license.
- A Texas woman received a stream of goods she didn’t order. Police learned that another party accessed her credit and debit card information and placed the orders for her. Although the story seems confusing because neither the perpetrator nor the victim obtained goods as a result, it demonstrates how easily others can access credit and debit card account information.
Speak with an Experienced Fraud Attorney in Houston, TX
Credit and debit card abuse and other related fraud crimes are relatively common charges. Most are punishable in either the misdemeanor or state jail felony range, so it is possible to receive lesser punishments such as community service on a first offense if your case doesn’t involve a large sum.
Realize that a credit card abuse or fraud conviction can affect your future. You may be barred from certain jobs in the financial or retail industries or in other professions in which you may have access to other people’s money or personal information.
The Law Office of Brett A. Podolsky can help you fight a fraud or related criminal charge. The state of Texas must prove that you made purchases, forged checks, applied for loans or credit—and that you did so with criminal intent. We may have the opportunity to challenge documents and/or statements made by witnesses if there are grounds to argue that a witness made a mistake or that the signature on documents isn’t yours.
Contact Brett A. Podolsky in Houston at 713-227-0087 to arrange an initial case evaluation.