Credit cards have revolutionized how people pay for goods and services online, over the phone and in person. These immediate digital transactions provide consumers with great convenience, but those credit card accounts are vulnerable to theft. A close relative, a merchant’s employee or a total stranger might steal a card or its account information and go on a shopping spree while the bill goes to the victim. The fraud could include an identity theft that enables an unauthorized party to open new credit accounts with the stolen name. Credit card fraud occurs almost invisibly throughout Naples, Florida, and the nation. The virtual mugging is off stage, and no violence takes place. Even so, state and federal criminal statutes impose tough sentences for these offenses. Individuals under suspicion for misuse of credit accounts may benefit from speaking with a Naples credit card fraud attorney before providing criminal investigators with any statements.
State and federal enforcement
Credit card crimes are prevalent, and most of the smaller level cases are prosecuted under Florida law. Like many other financial crimes, however, federal criminal law applies when credit card fraud extends into other states or countries. Criminal organizations stealing, using or counterfeiting credit cards to complete transactions totaling at least $150,000 will invite investigation by the Federal Trade Commission, U.S. Secret Service or FBI.
Do not say anything that might incriminate you. Speak with an attorney first.
Types of credit card fraud
Criminal statutes address multiple fraudulent uses of credit or debit cards or other credit accounts. These are the main offenses:
- stealing physical cards: People take physical possession of cards without permission and initiate transactions with them.
- card not present: Authorized users may still have possession of their cards, but other parties have acquired the account number, expiration date and other important information necessary for making fraudulent purchases.
- falsifying credit application / Identity theft: A person may commit this offense by entering false information on a credit card application about income. However, the offense often involves identity theft in which someone puts another person’s name on an application.
- data breach: Technologically savvy individuals may take account information by hacking a merchant’s servers. Any credit card information gleaned from the activity can be used to make purchases. Sometimes hackers sell the stolen accounts to others.
- knowingly accepting payment from stolen cards: This fraud occurs when a seller knowingly collects payment off a credit card from an unauthorized user.
- skimming: This is the term for using an electronic device to scan cards and collect account information. People then use the stolen accounts to make purchases. Skimming has emerged as a commonplace threat to consumers. People discretely install small card readers over ATM terminals or pay-at-the-pump fuel stations. Consumers then unwittingly swipe their cards and transfer their account information to the people operating the skimmers.
These devices played a central role in the prosecution of a man from Florida who worked as part of an interstate and international credit card fraud gang. Due to the cross-border nature of the crimes, federal prosecutors succeeded in convicting the man for credit card fraud.
His activities came to the attention of a local police force when a credit union alerted law enforcement to multiple suspicious withdrawals at ATMs. The Secret Service then became involved, and eventually a search of the suspect’s possessions uncovered many credit cards, computers and credit card readers. A search of his laptop revealed that he had 566 different account numbers. He was also found to be in league with other people located in Miami and Venezuela. Investigators concluded that the group was bringing in roughly $250,000 a month. The sentence for the accused skimmer was 4 years in prison and the requirement to pay $20,000 in restitution.
Federal credit card fraud penalties
Penalties escalate according to the severity and extent of criminal activity. Sentencing guidelines start at 1 to 5 years in prison for stealing cards. However, identity theft or possession of skimming devices could result in sentences as long as 10 to 20 years.
Legal advice during an investigation
Law enforcement might approach a suspect prior to making an arrest. Legal advice can be crucial at this early stage. The guidance of a criminal defense attorney may prevent someone from answering questions unnecessarily. Cooperating with authorities does not automatically deflect suspicion. Investigators are looking to complete their assignments, and preliminary interviews with suspects could provide them with information that leads to an arrest warrant.
How a federal criminal defense lawyer can help
Joffe Law, P.A. can provide clear answers about the severity of allegations so that people understand the stakes before answering questions from authorities. We assist people who need to assert their Constitutional rights if investigative intrusions cross legal lines. Accused individuals facing prosecution can gain representation from a knowledgeable attorney who has stood up for defendants in federal court many times. We challenge any evidence that cannot meet legal standards and create innovative defense strategies that cast doubt on a prosecutor’s assumptions about what happened. A dedicated legal adviser who is not intimidated by federal prosecutors could preserve a defendant’s liberty.