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What’s the punishment for credit card fraud?

Even minor credit card fraud can get you in big trouble.

Credit card fraud is a broad term that covers any crime involving a payment card. Usually, the goal of credit card fraud is to get access to someone else’s funds, but it can sometimes involve identity theft as well.

Credit card fraud punishment

Credit card fraud can mean a range of things, but in essence, it’s stealing someone’s credit card to access their funds and/or identity. But even if no funds are taken, stealing a physical credit card or the card’s information is punishable by law. If the card is actually used, the punishment for fraud is more severe. The highest form of credit card fraud peaks with credit card forgery and identity theft.

Different states have different laws in prosecuting and classifying credit card fraud. Depending on these factors, credit card fraud can be a:

  • Minor offense. The punishment for a minor offense is typically a monetary fine, rarely jail time. Typically, minor offense includes stealing the card but not using it.
  • Misdemeanor. The punishment can be a combination of a higher monetary fine and jail time. In most cases, a misdemeanor is when the fraudster uses a relatively small amount from the stolen credit card.
  • Felony. This is the most serious crime that often comes with the highest monetary fine and years in prison. This includes a higher credit card spend, credit card forgery and identity theft.

What are the chances of getting caught using a stolen credit card?

Unlike paying with cash, credit card purchases are easily traceable because they leave a digital footprint. To avoid that, fraudsters use freight forwarders or shipping mules to disguise their address if ordering online. Another frequently used method is called triangulation.

Triangulation is a process where the fraudster opens up multiple eBay accounts and sells legitimate items they don’t actually possess. When person A buys the item and deposits the money to the fraudster’s PayPal account, the fraudster orders the same item from another seller using the stolen credit card and has it shipped to person A’s address. This way the fraudster gets off with the money while person A receives an item bought with a stolen credit card.

These methods only lower the chances of getting caught, but they can still be tracked.

Do police investigate credit card theft?

Calling the police and filing a report is among the first things you should do when you discover credit card theft. This can result in a police investigation, but only if it’s a serious crime. Sometimes, the police may not get involved and claim that this is an issue you should resolve with your credit card company.

Compare credit cards with fraud protection

Some credit cards come with a variety of fraud protection features, such as the option to freeze and unfreeze your card, chip-and-pin protection that increases counterfeit difficulty or zero liability for unauthorized purchases.

Name Product Filter values Rewards Purchase APR Annual fee
Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card
26.99% variable
A no-annual-fee secured card that separates itself from the pack with a $200 credit limit after making a more affordable than average deposit of $49, $99 or $200.
The Platinum Card® from American Express
5x points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel, 5x points on directly-booked flights on up to $500,000 annually, then 1x points after that and on other eligible purchases
See Pay Over Time APR
100,000 points after spending $6,000 in your first 6 months. Terms apply, see rates & fees
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
3% on dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery services, 3% on drugstore purchases, 5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, Unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases
0% intro for the first 15 months (then 14.99% to 23.74% variable)
This solid 1.5% cashback card gets even better with the addition of up to 5% back in categories like travel, drug stores and dining.

Compare up to 4 providers

Bottom line

Credit card fraud is punishable by law. Even if you steal the card and never use it, you can still be on the hook and pay a fine. But the severity of the punishment depends on the state where it’s committed.

To protect yourself against credit card fraud, be sure to compare credit cards with fraud protection.

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