It’s easy to take for granted how important credit cards are to our financial situation nowadays. As such, it is common to borrow or lend credit cards the same way people used to borrow or lend cash. However, this can lead to many misunderstandings that run afoul of the law. Being charged with stealing another person’s credit card or the unlawful use of a credit card is an embarrassing situation that can have serious consequences if it is not resolved effectively. It is crucial that one understands what New Jersey considers legal versus illegal use of a credit card.
What Is Unlawful Use of a Credit Card?
Under New Jersey’s Credit Card Fraud Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:21-6, there are several different crimes associated with credit cards. Generally speaking, the most common is credit card theft. N.J.S.A. 2C:21-6(c) identifies six different types of credit card theft in New Jersey:
- Taking a credit card without the cardholder’s consent
- Receiving a lost, mislaid, or mistakenly delivered credit card
- Selling or buying a credit card from someone other than the issuer (i.e. credit card company)
- Obtaining a credit card to secure a debt
- Falsely making, counterfeiting, or modifying a credit card
- Unauthorized signing of a credit card
The first three are the most commonly charged. In the first scenario, a person who takes or otherwise uses someone else’s credit card and had the intent to improperly use it can be found guilty of credit card theft if the card was taken or used without the cardholder’s consent or permission.
Similarly, if consent was given through fraud, force, threat, deception, extortion, or false pretenses, then use of the card is not legally valid. New Jersey law also presumes that a person is guilty of this violation if he/she is in possession of two or more credit cards issued in the name of two or more people other than himself/herself.
In the second scenario, a person who receives a credit card that was lost, mislaid, or delivered to the wrong person or address by mistake can be found guilty of credit card theft. However, the prosecutor must first show beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused knew the card was lost, mislaid, or mistakenly delivered.
The third scenario applies if someone intends to use, sell, or transfer a credit card to someone other than the cardholder or issuer. Alternatively, a person who knowingly buys a credit card from a person other than the issuer (i.e. the credit card company) can be found guilty of credit card theft due to selling or purchasing stolen credit cards.
This third type of credit card theft is uniquely designed to prohibit the transfer or distribution of stolen credit cards. New Jersey law considers any credit card obtained from a person other than the issuer to be stolen.
Penalties and Fines
The three crimes detailed above are fourth-degree crimes. This means a person can face up to 18 months behind bars and a fine of up to $10,000. Additionally, a conviction for credit card theft or the unlawful use of a credit card will go on one’s criminal record and can follow a person for the rest of his/her life.
With such a criminal record, getting and keeping a job can be difficult, especially since theft-related offenses signal to employers that a person is untrustworthy and deceptive. Therefore, it is crucial that one hire an experienced attorney who can help avoid a conviction and all of the negative consequences that result from one.
How to Beat Unlawful Use of a Credit Card
The defense against credit card theft will depend on the exact nature of the crime one has been accused of. For example, a person caught with a credit card issued to someone else can beat a charge by getting the person to whom the card belongs to testify that it was given willingly.
Alternatively, it may be possible to prove that one was attempting or intended to return the credit card to its rightful owner. For this defense to work, there must be evidence of the effort to return it.
In some situations, the best strategy may be to negotiate with prosecutors to reduce the charges in exchange for a guilty plea. This makes sense in cases where evidence against them makes the odds of victory at trial slim. The right plea bargain (as this is called) can still minimize jail time and, under the right circumstances, ensure that one can have his/her criminal record expunge (more on that below).
Regardless of the circumstances, a person accused of credit card theft will need the help of an experienced defense attorney who can assess the evidence and build a defense strategy to mitigate the consequences.
Consequences for a First Offense
In many cases, a person being accused of unlawful use of a credit card can hope to seek a lighter sentence if it is his/her first offense. However, this is not always possible, especially if he/she is charged with other fraud-related offenses as well. The same can be said if the cards were used to obtain goods with a high total retail value. It is unwise to presume that one will get off easy on a first-offense of credit card theft.
Consequences for Juveniles
Kids raised in a digital economy sometimes see money as an abstract concept. They don’t see or fully comprehend the harm in using another person’s credit card, especially if the goods obtained are themselves abstract (e.g. in-game downloads). These misunderstandings are not necessarily malicious and it is important that any young person accused of credit card theft have compassionate representation.
If it is not possible to beat a charge against a juvenile, it may still be possible to avoid being sentenced to a juvenile facility even upon conviction (although avoiding conviction is preferable). Judges in family court, which hear juvenile cases, will consider what consequences are in the best interest of the child and the family. The right attorney will be able to recommend that education, counseling, and other programs would be more effective than incarceration at reducing the rate of reoffending.
Expunging Unlawful Use of a Credit Card
Credit card theft is an indictable offense in New Jersey, which is equivalent to a felony in other states. While serious, the offense can be expunged from a criminal record if the person is otherwise eligible.
To be eligible to petition for an expungement, a person cannot have more than one indictable conviction. That means if there is even one other indictable offense other than unlawful use of a credit card on the record, it cannot be cleared. Likewise, a person cannot have more than three disorderly persons offenses in addition to the indictable offense.
New Jersey has been working to simplify the expungement process over the past few years, but it has a long way to go. It is advisable that one gets help from an experienced expungement attorney before attempting to file the petition.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who Should I Contact?
If you or a loved one has been charged with credit card theft in New Jersey (i.e. Unlawful Use of a Credit Card), contact the attorneys of Rosenblum Law today. Let our team of skilled defense attorneys fight to protect your legal rights and keep you out of prison. Email or call us today at 888-815-3649.