Penal Code § 484e PC makes it a crime to steal either a credit or debit card, or the information contained on such a card. This section can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony and carries a potential sentence of up to 3 years in jail.
This code section is one of the several credit card fraud laws in California.
- Margaret waits tables and copies the credit card information of a patron after he pays his bill.
- Victor pick-pockets a person on the train, takes his credit card, and later tries to buy a television with it.
- Abril is a bank teller and quickly copies a customer’s debit card information down when the customer is seeking services.
Luckily, there are several legal defenses that a defendant can raise if accused under PC 484e. These include showing that the accused:
- did not intent to defraud,
- did not steal a “credit card,” and/or
- acted out of necessity.
A person that violates this statute is guilty of grand theft, under Penal Code 487. Grand theft is a wobbler offense under California law, meaning that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony (but never as an infraction).
- If charged as a misdemeanor, the crime is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for up to one year.
- If charged as a felony, the offense is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for up to three years.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will address the following in this article:
- 1. What criminal acts does Penal Code 484e PC cover?
- 2. What are the most common legal defense strategies?
- 3. What is the sentencing?
- 4. Related laws
1. What criminal acts does Penal Code 484e PC cover?
Penal Code 484e PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to steal a credit card, or a party’s credit card or debit card information.
In particular, the section states that it is a criminal offense if a person:
- sells, transfers, or acquires a credit or debit card without the cardholder’s consent, and
- does so with the intent to defraud.1
PC 484e also states that it is a crime if a party:
- retains possession of another person’s credit or debit card information without their consent, and
- does so with the intent to use the information fraudulently.2
To “defraud” or to do something “fraudulently” means to try and trick someone or to persuade them by dishonest means.
2. What are the most common legal defense strategies?
A person can try to challenge a PC 484e accusation by raising a legal defense. A good defense may work to reduce or even dismiss a charge.
Three common defenses to Penal Code 484e charges include:
- no intent to defraud,
- no credit card, and/or
2.1. No intent to defraud
Please recall that a person can only be guilty of stealing a credit or debit card if he does so with an intent to defraud. This means that it is always a legal defense for a defendant to show that he did not have this requisite intent.
2.2. No credit card
Penal Code 484e only applies to credit and debit cards. It does not include other items like cash or property. Therefore, it is a defense under this code section, for an accused to argue that while he may have taken or stole something, it was not a debit or credit card.
Under a necessity defense, a defendant essentially tries to avoid guilt by showing that he had a sufficiently good reason to commit the crime. People sometimes refer to this defense as “guilty with an explanation.” In the context of stealing a credit card, an accused could attempt to show that he committed the crime since he had no other choice (e.g., because of an emergency).
3. What is the sentencing?
A person that violates PC 484e is guilty of grand theft, under Penal Code 487.3 Grand theft is a wobbler offense under California law, meaning that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.
If charged as a misdemeanor, the crime is punishable by:
- imprisonment in the county jail for up to one year, and/or
- a maximum fine of $1,000.4
If charged as a felony, the offense is punishable by:
- imprisonment in the county jail for up to three years, and/or
- a maximum fine of $10,000.5
4. Related offenses
There are three laws related to PC 484e, stealing a credit card. These are:
- fraudulent use of a credit card – PC 484(g),
- publishing credit card information – PC 484(j), and
- petty theft – PC 484 and 488.
4.1. Fraudulent use of a credit card – PC 484(g)
A person violates Penal Code 484g PC when he knowingly uses a:
- expired or
credit or debit card in order to obtain money, goods, services or anything else of value.6
How PC 484g is punished depends on the value of the items a defendant receives. If the amount of the money, goods, services, etc. exceeds $950 in any consecutive six-month period, the offense will be punished as grand theft. If the value is $950 or less, the offense will be punished as petty theft.7
4.2. Publishing credit card information – PC 484(j)
Penal Code 484j PC prohibits publishing any information about a credit or debit card, personal identification number, computer password, bank account information, etc. with the intent to defraud another person or entity.
PC 484j is charged as a misdemeanor and the offense is punishable by:
- up to six months in jail, and/or,
- a maximum $1,000 fine.8
4.3. Petty theft – PC 484 and 488
In Penal Code 484a and 488, California law defines “petty theft” as the unlawful taking of property that is valued at $950 or less.9
Petty theft is a misdemeanor under California law.10 The crime is punishable by:
- imprisonment in the county jail for up to six months, and/or
- a maximum fine of $1,000.11
Contact us for help…
If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime, per California Penal Code 484e, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7.
- California Penal Code 484e PC. This code section states: “(a) Every person who, with intent to defraud, sells, transfers, or conveys, an access card, without the cardholder’s or issuer’s consent, is guilty of grand theft. (b) Every person, other than the issuer, who within any consecutive 12-month period, acquires access cards issued in the names of four or more persons which he or she has reason to know were taken or retained under circumstances which constitute a violation of subdivision (a), (c), or (d) is guilty of grand theft. (c) Every person who, with the intent to defraud, acquires or retains possession of an access card without the cardholder’s or issuer’s consent, with intent to use, sell, or transfer it to a person other than the cardholder or issuer is guilty of petty theft. (d) Every person who acquires or retains possession of access card account information with respect to an access card validly issued to another person, without the cardholder’s or issuer’s consent, with the intent to use it fraudulently, is guilty of grand theft.”
- See same.
- See same.
- California Penal Code 489 PC.
- See same.
- California Penal Code 484g PC.
- See same.
- California Penal Code 484j PC.
- California Penal Code 484 PC.
- California Penal Code 490 PC.
- See same.