Credit Card Fraud

The crime of credit card fraud is penalized under the authority of N.J.S.A. 2C-21-6. In New Jersey credit card fraud is typically charged as a third or fourth degree offense depending upon the facts of the alleged complaint. Take note that a charge under the credit card fraud statute does not preclude prosecution under the NJ theft crime statutes. And since theft is subject to aggregated grading, an individual arrested and charged with fraud could be facing a much higher degree of offense if the amount of money involved is significant.

Under N.J.S.A. 2C:21-6 there are subsections that define and describe the various ways one can commit credit card fraud. Subsection a. of the statute defines various terms and is set forth as follows:

2C:21-6. Credit Cards.
a. Definitions. As used in this section:
(1) “Cardholder” means the person or organization named on the face of a credit card to whom or for whose benefit the credit card is issued by an issuer.
(2) “Credit card” means any tangible or intangible instrument or device issued with or without fee by an issuer that can be used, alone or in connection with another means of account access, in obtaining money, goods, services or anything else of value on credit, including credit cards, credit plates, account numbers, or any other means of account access.
(3) “Expired credit card” means a credit card which is no longer valid because the term shown either on it or on documentation provided to the cardholder by the issuer has elapsed.
(4) “Issuer” means the business organization or financial institution which issues a credit card or its duly authorized agent.
(5) “Receives” or “receiving” means acquiring possession or control or accepting a credit card as security for a loan.
(6) “Revoked credit card” means a credit card which is no longer valid because permission to use it has been suspended or terminated by the issuer.

Subsections b. through h. describe the number of ways that credit card fraud is committed.

Subsection b. False statements in procuring issuance of credit card

Basically, one is guilty of a fourth degree crime the individual makes or causes to be made any false statements with the purpose of procuring a credit card that he knows will be relied upon by any entity who may issue a credit card. These false statements can relate to identity, financial status, etc. You do not have to make the false statements yourself to be guilty under this section. If you cause someone else to make the false statements, you are not insulated from prosecution under this section. Summing up under this section, if you make misrepresentations to procure a credit card you may be guilty of a fourth degree offense.

Subsection C. Credit Card Theft

Probably the most commonly charged credit card crime I see as a New Jersey criminal defense attorney is credit card theft. There are six ways one can commit the offense of credit card theft

  • taking a credit card without the owner’s consent, or receiving a credit card from another knowing that the owner has not consented and intending to use the credit card or transfer it to another. This is a crime of the fourth degree. Note that if one is found in possession of two or more cards issued in other people’s names, or two our more stolen credit cards, he/she is presumed to have violated this statue. Presumptions are always rebuttable, meaning your criminal defense lawyer will have an opportunity to explain the possession.
  • Receiving/taking/picking up a credit card knowing that it has been lost or mislaid or delivered by mistake and retaining possession with the intent to use, sell, transfer the same. For example, a credit card dropped at a store, or delivered to the wrong address.
  • a person other than the issuer who sells a credit card or buys a credit card from someone other than the issuer is guilty of the fourth degree
  • A person who, with intent to defraud the issuer, a person or organization providing money, goods, services or anything else of value, or any other person, obtains control over a credit card as security for debt is guilty of a crime of the fourth degree
  • subsection (5) deals with fraudulently making or embossing credit cards. A third degree offense
  • subsection (6) makes it a crime of the fourth degree to sign a credit card by someone other than the card holder with the intent to defraud the issuer, person, etc.

As you may notice, the previously discussed sections penalize fraudulent activity that may stop short of actually using the credit card for some type of pecuniary gain. This means that one could be punished if he/she engages in the proscribed conduct with the intent to defraud the issuer/cardholder, etc. In some instances, this may mean that the actions are never really carried out to fruition, but the intent to do so is evident.

The illegal activity described in sections d. through h. penalizes activity that goes a little further. Therefore, most of the credit card crimes described in these subsections are third degree offenses punishable by up to 5 years in state prison. For example, a commonly charged offense in credit card fraud cases is Fraudulent Use of a Credit Card. Under subsection h. of the statute, a crime of the third degree is committed when one uses a credit card obtained or procured illegally in one of the ways described in the statute, or uses a credit card without the owners consent. The statute also penalizes those actions where one fraudulently aquires or furnishes to another a credit card obtained illegally. Once again, this crime is charged as a third degree offense based upon the defendant’s use of the card or substantial step in furtherance of the fraud.

The bottom line is this. All credit card fraud crimes are intent based offenses. In addition, the statute will dole out harsher punishments in cases where the defendant takes a more furtive step in furtherance of the fraud. Nonetheless, the State must prove that you  had the intent defraud, and this is not always and easy thing to do. In many credit card fraud cases that I have defended, I have been able to effectively negotiate significant downgrades based upon the State’s hesitancy to go to trial over this one particular issue. In addition, if a trial is necessary, proving to the fact finder that the intent element of the offense has been satisfied maybe accomplished. But as seen from the statute, you may not be guilty of a higher degree of offense is the State fails to establish the mens rea for the charged offense. This could be the difference between 3 to 5 years in state prison or probation.

In any event, if charged with a New Jersey credit card fraud offense, it is imperative that contact a New Jersey credit card fraud attorney to discuss the facts of the charge you are facing and any possible defenses that you may assert at the time of trial or prior thereto.

The Law Offices of Todd Palumbo, office locations in Essex County, Union County, 07016, 07079

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