Credit card fraud is a broad term that can apply to a wide range of various crimes. Stealing a credit card, using a computer to break into a person's bank account, or even creating counterfeit cards and selling them are all considered forms of credit card fraud. The penalties for these crimes vary broadly, ranging from small fines to many years of incarceration.
The penalty for credit card fraud rests largely on the nature of the crime itself, and the person who commits it. For example, if a man steals, then uses, a credit card, he has not only committed credit card fraud, but also robbery as well. Because of this, the fraud charges can be more serious because they occurred in furtherance of another crime. However, someone who finds a card and uses it for a small purchase faces less serious charges, most likely petty or misdemeanour theft.
Credit card fraud, like other thefts, is punished according to the severity of the offence. Buying a few gallons of gas with a stolen card is a much less serious offence than stealing multiple cards to buy ingredients to make drugs, for example. Typically, states differentiate between misdemeanours and penalties based on the value of the amount stolen. For example, using a stolen card to buy something under £325 is usually charged as a misdemeanour with potential penalties of less than a year in jail. However, repeated offences and higher dollar amounts can result in felony charges with potential sentences of several years or more.
Credit card fraud cases can be charged on a local, state or even federal level. For example, stealing someone's wallet and using the cards in it is usually charged on a local level. However, a multistate crime ring that steals credit card information and uses the cards in an ongoing criminal enterprise commits racketeering and organised crime, which are federal crimes.
The manner in which the credit card fraud is accomplished can significantly affect the potential penalties. Using a computer to send e-mail's to steal someone's credit card information is not only credit card fraud, but also computer fraud. Someone using a device to make and sell counterfeit cards is also guilty of trafficking in stolen goods.
The specific penalties for credit card fraud are no different than for any other crime, and include fines and jail. Depending on the factors involved, the fines can be small and the defendant may not serve any jail time at all. On the other hand, a single conviction can bring years in jail and many thousands of dollars in fines. Probation is possible in many cases, especially when the defendant has no previous convictions and the offence was minor.