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What's the Penalty for Using a Stolen Credit Card?

By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

Using a stolen credit card is a serious crime that carries serious penalties. Even if the card was not stolen, per se, but rather found on the sidewalk, using the card is still illegal in all 50 states. Unlike using stolen or found cash, using a stolen credit card involves an act of fraud on top of theft, on top of the underlying theft of the card potentially.

Like most criminal statutes, the laws prohibiting using a stolen credit card vary from state to state. Some states have stricter penalties than others. Most states however do differentiate between when using a stolen credit card is a misdemeanor or felony. Sometimes, if the value of the goods or services purchased were below a certain threshold, a prosecutor can opt to charge a lesser crime, such as petty larceny or petty theft, which typically are misdemeanors. However, if the value exceeds the state's misdemeanor threshold, or there were multiple cards involved, it is likely that felony charges will be brought.

Misdemeanor Vs. Felony Sentences for Using a Stolen Credit Card

Since credit card theft and fraud can be charged as either misdemeanors or felonies, the potential fines and jail time can vary drastically. Additionally, some states have sentencing guidelines that require mandatory minimum sentences that you should be aware of if you're facing any criminal charge.

If you're facing a misdemeanor, the maximum jail term would be one year, and generally fines would not exceed $1,000 (but court costs and other fees, and restitution will likely drive that figure up). Sometimes, taking a plea deal for a misdemeanor, can avoid jail time entirely. If you are facing a felony charge, you could be facing much larger fines as well as a prison term in excess of a few years, and in some states as many as 15 to 20 years, especially if there are multiple counts or a prior criminal record.

How Is Using a Stolen Credit Card Fraud?

In order to use a credit card, usually a person must provide a card that has a name on it (or attached to it), as well as sign an agreement to be responsible for the charge for each transaction. When it is not your name on the card, and you are not authorized to sign for charges, using the card is an act of fraud.

Generally, fraud occurs when a person misrepresents an important fact they know to be false (such as being authorized to use a credit card), and the person who the misrepresentation is made to reasonably relies on that fact and suffers a loss as a result. In addition to fraud charges, using a stolen credit card can also result in theft charges in addition to fraud charges or other more specific charges. This is due to the fact that in addition to the misrepresentation of using the card, getting the card often involves a criminal act, and typically a person receives goods or services of value, and sometimes even cash, in exchange for the credit.

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