Credit card fraud promises big rewards, but risks are greater

We live in a society so dependent on credit and debit cards that people hardly seem to notice when and where their money comes and goes. Gone are the days of balancing checkbooks and counting bills. We often don't know how much money we have until we look at a bank statement once a month.

These somewhat lax tendencies can increase the temptation to skim off the accounts of unsuspecting consumers, especially for those who regularly handle others' credit cards. But credit card fraud isn't limited to one industry or demographic. You may work in retail, mail services or any business that handles financial transactions. Or you may have simply happened across a lost credit card. The intended monetary gain may be fairly insignificant or in the tens of thousands of dollars.

What types of credit card offenses are there?

The state of Georgia breaks down credit and debit card offenses into three basic categories:

1. Financial Transaction Card Theft: Stealing or owning a card without the owner's consent, or holding it with the intention of using or selling it, is illegal. So is buying a lost, stolen or forged card. You may also be charged for having two or more such cards within a year. This type of theft carries a potential penalty of one to three years in prison and fines of up to $5,000.

2. Forgery of a Financial Transaction Card: You may not create a fake card, forge the signature or alter the magnetic strip with the intent to commit fraud. A credit card forgery conviction holds the same consequences as financial transaction card theft.

3. Financial Transactions Card Fraud: This category deals with the actual transaction of a lost, stolen, forged or otherwise illegally obtained card. It's important to note that you don't need to be the one attempting to use the card to face charges. Anyone who knowingly accepts a fraudulent card or falsifies a receipt involving a credit card is at risk of being prosecuted. The penalties for this type of fraud depend on the amount of money involved in the transaction(s).

Bear in mind that all three crimes listed above are classified as felonies. While some offenses -- and their monetary gain -- can seem petty, the ramifications are extremely serious and should be treated that way as you consider your next steps.

Be sure to keep a checklist of "must-haves" for the legal help you seek. The attorney you hire should be understanding, not judgmental. Your counsel should also be focused on white collar crimes, rather than someone who simply dabbles in this practice area. And if you can find an attorney who has worked as a prosecutor of fraud crimes, all the better. This experience can go a long way toward obtaining the most favorable outcome for you.

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