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Washington Credit and Debit Card Fraud Laws

Credit card fraud law establishes criminal penalties for the deceptive or unauthorized use of another person’s credit card account in an attempt to steal money, goods, or services. Washington state has several criminal laws that relate to credit and debit card fraud. Essentially these crimes fall into two categories. The first category relates to crimes when the credit card is physically present. The second category refers to crimes when the credit card isn't physically present, but a victim's credit card number is used without his/her consent.

"Card Present" Crimes

“Card present” crimes are those in which the victim’s physical credit card has been stolen. This category also includes schemes to apply for new credit cards in the victim’s name, or to change the address on the victim’s account and then request replacement cards. No matter how it happens, the criminal comes into possession of the card itself, and then uses it for purchases or cash advances.

"Card Not Present " Crimes

All other types of credit card fraud fall under the category of “card not present” crimes. As the name suggests, these schemes do not require the criminal to have the victim’s physical card, just the credit card number is enough. The fraud is accomplished by recording the credit card number and other identifying information so it can be used online, over the phone, or in some other way that does not require the card to be swiped at the point of sale. These types of crimes are typically prosecuted along with identity theft.

The following table highlights the main provisions of the Washington state's credit/debit card fraud laws. See Are You Responsible for Unauthorized Credit Card Charges, Fraud and Financial Crimes, Theft Overview, and Business Data Breach and Customer ID Theft for more information.

Code Sections

RCW 9A.56.290 , et seq.

What is Prohibited

See explanation above


Felony, class depends on facts and nature of the crime including prior criminal history.

Definition of a Credit Card

"Credit card" means a card, plate, booklet, credit card number, credit card account number, or other identifying symbol, instrument, or device that can be used to pay for, or to obtain on credit, goods or service.

Definition of a Debit Card

"Debit card" means a card used to obtain goods or services by a transaction that debits the card holder's account, rather than extending credit.

Victim Restitution

A victim of identity theft may bring a civil suit against a person who has used his or her personal identifying information. The court may award the victim costs of the identity theft, including the costs of clearing the victim’s credit history, court costs, and attorneys’ fees.

What to Do If You Are a Victim

1) Report the Incident to a Law Enforcement Agency

A person who believes they are a victim of an identity theft or credit card fraud is encouraged to promptly report those facts to a law enforcement agency. In Washington a victim can report credit card fraud/identity theft to the Washington State Office of the Attorney General or a local law enforcement agency.

2) Notify you credit card company immediately. Note the date, time and person to whom you reported the loss or theft. Once you report the loss or theft, you are not responsible for charges you didn’t authorize. Your maximum liability under federal law is $50 per card

3) Contact the three major credit card bureaus

4) Opt out of getting credit card offers in the mail by calling 1-888-567-8688 (1-888-5OPT-OUT). You'll be asked to provide some personal information such as name, address and Social Security Number, but that information will be used only to process your request

Because Washington's consumer and criminal laws can sometimes get complicated, it may also be a good idea to consult an experienced consumer protection or criminal defense lawyer if you have questions about your specific situation.

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