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California Credit Card Fraud Laws

Overview of California Credit Card Fraud Laws

California state laws criminalize a number of activities related to "access cards," which include credit cards, debit cards, and the account numbers of those cards. A prosecutor might charge a defendant with forgery or counterfeiting if the defendant made or altered an access card. The prosecutor might also charge a defendant with forgery if the defendant signed the cardholder's name or a fictitious name in order to use an access card that did not belong to the defendant.

Debit and credit card fraud also occurs when an individual has an intent to fraudulently obtain money, goods, or services by using the access card of a cardholder who has not authorized its use. The individual may have stolen the access card or account information, or obtained a forged or altered access card. In addition, credit card fraud may arise if a cardholder kept an access card which the individual knew to be expired and continued to use the card. The state can charge the unauthorized user with theft. See Are You Liable for Unauthorized Credit Card Charges? and Theft Overview to learn more.

If the value of the money, goods, or services obtained through fraudulent use of an access card exceeds $950 within a period of six consecutive months, California law requires prosecution of the user for grand theft. Use of an access card to obtain a lesser-valued amount will likely result in a charge of petty theft.

California Credit Card Fraud Laws Overview

Below you will find key provisions of California’s credit card fraud laws.


California Penal Code Sections 484-502.9 et. seq. (Credit Card Fraud Laws)


Credit card fraud prosecuted as theft results in penalties and sentencing set by California state laws to punish petty theft and grand theft. The possible punishment depends on whether the state has convicted the defendant of petty theft or grand theft. A conviction for petty theft may result in a fine of up to $1,000, a term of imprisonment in county jail for up to six months, or both. A conviction for grand theft generally involves more serious consequences. Grand theft may result in a sentence of up to one year in county jail or even an increased sentence when the defendant had a prior criminal record or engaged in related criminal activities.

Possible Defenses

  • Cardholder's permission to possess or use the access card

Possibility of Community Service Sentence

  • A defendant who made or sold counterfeit access cards, modified or altered incomplete access cards, or possessed or trafficked the equipment used for counterfeiting access cards may be prosecuted for participation in credit card fraud or forgery activities. California law permits a sentence of imprisonment in county jail for a term of up to one year. However, a prosecutor may be able to pursue increased sentencing due to a prior criminal record or related criminal activities.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

California Codes and Legal Research Options

Additional Resources

If you have additional questions about California’s credit card fraud laws, click on the following links:

Accused of Credit Card Fraud in California? Get Legal Help

Credit card fraud is widespread in the U.S. Judges and juries are particularly sensitive to the growing trend of credit card fraud-related crimes. If you've been accused of violating California credit card fraud laws, it's a good idea to reach out to an experienced criminal defense attorney in California to discuss your case and have a strong legal advocate on your side.

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