Fraud Jail Time

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In 2021, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) obtained more than 2.8 million fraud reports, with consumers reporting more than $5.8 million lost to fraud.

Such figures show the significance of implementing heavy penalties against fraudsters.

What are the different types of fraud, and how long is jail time for committing fraudulent activities? Aside from jail time, what are the other penalties for fraud crimes?

Fraud comes in different forms, and each type has its corresponding penalties that can include jail time. Learning about fraud, its penalties, and its laws can help you avoid becoming a victim of such crimes.

If you’ve been accused of fraud, you must understand the circumstances leading up to the crime to build a strong defense during the trial.

If you have a loved one sentenced to jail for fraud,’s online search tool can help you find their jail and inmate records whether in New York, Illinois, North Carolina, Florida, Michigan, and other states.

This article discusses fraud and the penalties for committing fraud, including jail time and fines. 

What Is Fraud?

Fraud is the intentional deception by a perpetrator to gain or deny a right to a victim unlawfully. This act involves falsely representing facts by providing false statements or intentionally withholding essential information to gain something that otherwise may not have been provided without the deception.

Some fraud crimes require the prosecution to prove the victim relied on the defendant’s misrepresentations to convict the offender of fraud.

State and Federal Crimes Based on Fraud

The federal government and the states have numerous laws criminalizing various fraud types.

When a crime violates state law, the state court has jurisdiction over the case. However, if the fraud occurs at the national level, like in the case of mail fraud or federal tax fraud, such acts become crimes at the federal level.

Fraud Can Be a Criminal or Civil Wrong

Fraud can be a civil wrong, meaning victims can file a civil lawsuit against the defendant for monetary damages as compensation for losses suffered due to fraud.

While criminal fraud carries the possibility of fines or incarceration, or both, civil fraud does not impose such penalties.

What About Jail Time?

A person convicted of fraud can be sentenced to jail time, which can vary by state.

For example, in North Carolina, if the value lost is less than $500 within six months, the offender will likely face a class 2 misdemeanor, including a fine, probation, or jail time of 1 to 60 days.

What Is the Highest Sentence for Fraud?

Among the types of fraud with the highest penalties is bank fraud, which is punishable by imprisonment of up to 30 years, a fine of up to $1,000,000, or both.

How Do People Get Caught for Fraud?

There are many ways to catch fraud. For example, if you suspect credit card fraud or potential for such crime, you may notice the following:

  • A lost or stolen card
  • Unusual activity on your account statement
  • Unauthorized charges on your account for days or even weeks without you or your credit card company knowing

Types of Fraud Crimes

Below are some of the common fraud crimes you may encounter:

Mail Fraud

Mail fraud is a federal crime in which the defendant attempts to defraud someone by using or planning to use the mail system, like USPS (U.S. Postal Service), UPS (United Parcel Service), or FedEx (Federal Express), to carry out the fraud scheme.

Wire Fraud

A person commits wire fraud when they intentionally and voluntarily use an interstate communication device like a phone or computer as a part of a plan to defraud someone of anything of value.

Wire fraud is a federal crime that constitutes an intentional scheme to defraud another using interstate wire communications to carry out the plan.

Computer and Internet Fraud

Computer fraud involves hacking into or accessing a computer or computer network without permission to defraud someone.

A person committing this defrauding act will attempt to access financial data or personal information, alter or delete records, or obtain something of value.

Internet fraud can overlap with computer fraud when the act involves using a computer and accessing the internet to perform fraud and other financial scams.

Counterfeiting or Forgery

Forgery is the making of false writing with the intent to defraud others. Counterfeiting is a kind of forgery in which the perpetrator manufactures false money by copying real currency and passing the fake one for the genuine article.

Because counterfeiting requires a high level of technical skill to imitate real money, authorities treat this act as a separate crime from other acts of forgery.

Loan Fraud

An individual or business commits loan fraud when they knowingly make false material statements to a financial institution or federal agency to obtain a loan.

What differentiates loan fraud from other fraud types is that even if the lender does not lose money, the perpetrator still committed a crime. Making false statements to influence or mislead the lender is enough for this fraud to be a criminal act.

Credit Card Fraud

Credit card fraud involves an unauthorized taking of someone’s credit card information to charge purchases to or remove funds from the account. Because the perpetrator uses another person’s information, credit card fraud can also be a form of identity theft.

Is Fraud Considered a Felony or a Misdemeanor?

Generally, penalties for fraud become harsher the more significant the amount of money involved. Crimes involving smaller amounts can be considered a misdemeanor. Meanwhile, more complex crimes with larger amounts may qualify as a felony.

When Does Fraud Become a Felony?

A felony represents a more serious crime than a misdemeanor, so felony penalties are higher and can vary by state.

For example, in the District of Columbia (D.C.), fraud involving properties valued at less than $1,000 is a misdemeanor. But if the value hits $1,000 or more, the government can pursue felony charges against the defendant.

Penalties for Committing Fraud Crimes

Fraud penalties depend on the state and whether the crime is a felony or misdemeanor. Some fraud offenses impose increasing penalties based on a victim’s losses. In contrast, other crimes impose penalties based on the scam alone.

For instance, a person charged with federal mail fraud can face up to 20 years in prison, and if the scam involves a bank, the fine can go up to $100,000.

Jail or Prison Time for Fraud Convictions

Fraud convictions can result in a prison sentence depending on the severity of the case. A misdemeanor can place an offender in a local jail for up to a year. Meanwhile, a felony can imprison the perpetrator for multiple years.

For instance, federal charges can lead to 10 or more years in prison. Judges will examine the offense’s nature, the defendant’s criminal records, and public safety interests when deciding the appropriate sentence.

Fines and Restitution for Fraud Convictions

Fines for fraud convictions can differ significantly based on the circumstances of the case. The amount can be a few thousand dollars or less for misdemeanor fraud. Meanwhile, felony convictions can impose fines of more than $10,000.

A judge can also order the defendant to pay restitution to the victims for losses incurred due to the crime.

Debit and Credit Card Fraud Penalties

An individual who commits credit and debit card fraud will likely do any of the following:

  • Take the actual credit or debit card
  • Steal the card’s numbers
  • Open a new credit card account in the victim’s name

The following penalties apply to credit card fraud:

Misdemeanor Credit Card Fraud

Credit card fraud involving a relatively small amount, like under $500 or $1,000, can be a misdemeanor. The offender can face up to $1,000 in fines and up to one year in county jail.

Felony Card Fraud

Credit card fraud can become a felony when the perpetrator uses a stolen credit card to buy goods exceeding the amount limit for a misdemeanor.

For example, in Florida, fraudulent use of a credit card is a third-degree felony if the perpetrator used the card more than twice and obtained items valued at more than $100 within six months.

Penalties for a third-degree felony in Florida include up to five years in prison, five years of probation, and a $5,000 fine.

Does Credit Card Fraud Involve Jail Time?

The penalties for credit card fraud can include jail time depending on the state, the type of credit card fraud, and the amount of money stolen.

In California, jail time for credit card fraud can range from one to three years in county jail. If the fraud is a federal offense, imprisonment can take 20 years.

What Is Credit Card Fraud?

Using someone else’s credit card knowingly without their permission or attempting to defraud someone using another person’s credit card information constitutes credit card fraud.

Credit cards fall under laws related to financial transaction cards (FTCs), which cover the following cards:

  • Credit cards
  • Banking or debit cards
  • Credit plates (a predecessor of the credit card)
  • Bank services cards
  • Check guarantee cards

Is Credit Card Fraud a Felony in the U.S.?

If you use, produce, or traffic counterfeit or unauthorized access devices in the U.S., federal prosecutors can charge you with a felony.

Access devices associated with this charge include credit cards, debit cards, and gift cards.

When Do You Face Charges for FTC Theft?

You can face criminal charges for financial transaction card (FTC) theft for the following activities:

  • Taking, obtaining, or withholding an FTC from another person to use or sell it without their consent
  • Possessing two or more FTCs that you know or should know were taken from other people or retained fraudulently
  • Using a scanning device to obtain, read, access, memorize, or store information on another’s card for financial gain

When Do You Face Charges for FTC Forgery?

Authorities can charge you with credit card or FTC forgery for any of the following activities: 

  • Falsely making or embossing an FTC to defraud someone
  • Encoding, duplicating, or altering information on an FTC to defraud someone
  • Altering a validly issued FTC
  • Recording information on an FTC through magnetic, electronic, electromagnetic, or other means to permit the card’s acceptance in any automated banking device
  • Possessing two or more falsely made or falsely embossed FTCs

When Do You Face Charges for Credit Card Fraud?

You can be guilty of committing credit card fraud through any of the following actions:

  • Saying that you are the cardholder without the original cardholder’s consent
  • Presenting the FTC without the cardholder’s authorization
  • Saying that you are the cardholder of an unissued card
  • Making false statements regarding your name, occupation, assets, liabilities, or financial condition
  • Willfully and significantly overstating your assets or substantially undervaluing your liabilities to influence the issuance of your FTC
  • Giving a false notice or report of theft, loss, disappearance, or nonreceipt of your FTC.

Can You Go to Jail for Accidentally Committing Fraud?

Some instances can cause you to commit fraud unknowingly. For example, you allowed someone to use your card and authorized a purchase but later reported the transaction as fraudulent because you forgot about the purchase.

In such cases, you might be in an unpleasant situation but unlikely to face jail time. You can consult a criminal defense attorney to protect yourself from accidental fraud.

Theft or Fraud Over $5,000

Some states have varying penalties based on the amount lost due to theft or fraud. The following sections discuss such cases involving potential damages of over $5,000.

The Charge

In D.C., first-degree fraud involving property valued at $1,000 or more includes a fine of up to $25,000 or twice the property’s value, whichever is greater.

Such a penalty suggests that fraud leading to property loss over $5,000 should not exceed $25,000 in most cases.

The Investigation

The U.S. Department of Justice’s fraud section leads the fight against sophisticated economic crime. This section investigates and prosecutes complex white-collar crime cases across the country and has the unique qualifications to do so based on the department’s experience with sophisticated fraud schemes.

The Defense

An acquittal or having the case dismissed is among the best outcomes an accused can get from a theft or fraud conviction. To achieve such results, the defendant must work with an experienced lawyer to build a strong defense.

Credit Card Fraud Laws

Every state in the U.S. has specific credit card fraud laws depending on the nature of the crime. For example, the following laws apply in California at the federal level:

Criminal Card Fraud Laws in the U.S.

Credit card fraud, also called access device fraud, can be a federal crime if the perpetrator intends to defraud others by doing any of the following acts:

  • Using, producing, or trafficking counterfeit access devices
  • Possessing 15 or more counterfeit devices
  • Using, producing, trafficking, controlling, or having a scanning receiver
  • Possessing or trafficking any device-making equipment
  • Using, producing, trafficking, controlling, or possessing modified telecommunication instruments to obtain telecommunications services 
  • Obtaining payment or anything of value equal to or greater than $1,000 within a year using an access device
  • Soliciting someone for offering or selling an access device without the device issuer’s authorization

Stolen Credit Cards

Some states have specific laws regarding stolen credit cards. For example, selling or possessing a stolen credit card, account number, or PIN is a crime in California.

The offender does not need to use the stolen credit card to be charged with this crime. Instead, possessing the contraband items is sufficient for a conviction.

Forgery of Credit Card Information

Some states, like California, have specific statutes against credit card information forgery that typically includes:

  • Altering an existing credit card
  • Signing another person’s name in an illegal credit card transaction

Conviction of such forgery can lead to jail time, fines, and victim restitution.

Fraudulently Using Credit Card Information

This statute specifies that individuals who knowingly and unlawfully use an expired, altered, stolen, forged, or counterfeit credit card can get charged with any of the following convictions:

  • A misdemeanor petty theft crime punishable by up to one year in county jail and $1,000 in fines if the value lost is $950 or less
  • A felony grand theft punishable by jail time of up to three years and a fine of $10,000 if the value lost is more than $950

Retailer Credit Card Fraud

This fraud happens when a retailer knowingly charges someone’s credit card for a service or product not provided.

The offense is a misdemeanor if the amount lost is $950 or less. However, if the lost value exceeds $950, the crime is a felony grand theft punishable by up to three years in jail and a $10,000 fine.

Counterfeiting Credit Cards

This statute involves the manufacture of counterfeit credit cards. A prosecutor does not need to prove an actual loss. Instead, the intent to cause a loss can be sufficient to convict someone.

Publishing Credit Card Information

This law covers the publishing of stolen credit card information, including the publishing of PINs, account numbers, and passwords.

This crime is a misdemeanor in California, punishable by jail time of up to one year and a fine of $1,000.

Review of Credit Card Fraud Penalties in the U.S.

Many credit card fraud charges can be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the crime’s severity. Some crimes do not require the prosecutor to prove a loss to convict the perpetrator.

Related California Offenses for Credit Card Fraud

In California, credit card fraud can be associated with other offenses like the following:

  • Petty theft
  • Grand theft
  • Unauthorized computer access
  • Identity theft
  • Forgery
  • Conspiracy
  • Elder abuse

Legal Defenses for Credit Card Fraud Charges

If you receive a credit card fraud charge, a criminal defense lawyer can help provide various strategies to help with your case’s defense like the following:

  • No fraudulent intent
  • False accusation
  • Lack of evidence
  • Illegal search and seizure

10 Things You Must Know About Bank Fraud Charges

The following details provide essential information about bank fraud that can affect your case.

The Federal Bank Fraud Act of the United States Defines the Elements of Federal Bank Fraud Charges

The Federal Bank Fraud Act criminalizes individuals knowingly executing or attempting to execute a scheme using fraudulent promises, pretenses, or representations to defraud a financial institution.

This law defines fraudsters as those who execute such schemes to obtain money, assets, or other property under a financial institution’s ownership or control.

Bank Fraud Is a Federal Crime Punishable by Federal Penalties

Bank fraud is a federal crime wherein a person can face federal and state criminal charges. Penalties include fines and imprisonment.

Bank Fraud Penalties Are Severe

Federal-level bank fraud convictions can bring harsh penalties of 30 years maximum jail time, a $1,000,000 maximum fine, or both.

You Can Face State Law Charges in Connection With the Alleged Acts Leading to Bank Fraud Charges

If you are charged with federal bank fraud, you can also get charged with other state-level criminal charges related to bank fraud.

For example, in North Carolina, crimes related to bank fraud include writing worthless checks (checks with insufficient funds), charged as a felony if the check’s value is more than $2,000.

Bank Fraud Laws Are Closely Modeled After Federal Mail Fraud Laws

According to the Department of Justice, the statutory language for federal bank fraud charges is modeled after the mail fraud statute.

This similarity means both laws prohibit using a scheme to defraud a federally insured or chartered financial institution or acquire money or other property owned or controlled by such an institution.

Federal Bank Fraud Charges Are Designed to Apply to a Wide Variety of Cases

Federal bank fraud charges are flexible enough that, depending upon a case’s specific facts and circumstances, such charges can apply to various cases. Bank fraud laws can also be viewed as a supplement to other criminal provisions related to fraud.

Federal Bank Fraud Charges in Conjunction With Related Federal Crimes

Examples of federal criminal charges associated with bank fraud include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Bank robbery
  • Extortion
  • Identity theft
  • Computer fraud and computer hacking
  • Mail, email, and wire fraud
  • Mortgage fraud

Bank Fraud Is Usually Described as a White-Collar Crime

White-collar crime consists of fraud committed by government and business professionals and is characterized by deceit, concealment, or violation of trust.

As such, bank fraud and similar white-collar criminal offenses should be associated with severe penalties upon a perpetrator’s conviction.

Multiple Defense Strategies Are Available to Fight Federal Bank Fraud Charges

Individuals suspected of bank fraud may have a better chance of avoiding conviction if they work with a federal criminal defense attorney experienced with bank fraud charges.

An attorney can help create a defense strategy based on the case’s circumstances and facts leading up to the suspect’s arrest.

Do Not Expect to Have Your Conviction Expunged or Sealed

For federal offense convictions like bank fraud, no federal statute provides a straightforward process to have the record expunged. Additionally, no federal law allows the sealing of federal criminal records following a valid conviction.

Federal Offenses

Credit card fraud is generally a state crime. However, it can also fall under federal jurisdiction, especially when such crimes violate federal laws, such as using skimming or counterfeiting devices to commit fraud.

Federal Sentencing Guidelines and Penalties

Most white-collar cases can be complicated and require extensive knowledge of the United States Sentencing Guidelines (USSG).

A white-collar crime conviction can carry potential restitution amounts and federal prison sentences that may be more severe than similar charges in state courts.

United States Sentencing Guidelines

The USSG helps eliminate the sentencing disparity for the same offense in different courts nationwide by establishing factors calculated to determine an offense level.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission uses this offense level and an offender’s prior criminal record calculation to determine the appropriate sentence.

Conviction Penalties in Federal Court

Although the USSG is not binding on the federal judges, they can still impose sentences based on the guideline range almost 50% of the time, including any fines levied.

Defending Yourself Against a Fraud Conviction

If you’re convicted of fraud, working with a professional criminal defense lawyer is one of your best chances to win the case. A lawyer understands the state and federal laws related to your case and builds the appropriate defenses to keep you out of jail.

What Are Possible Defense Strategies for a Fraud Accusation?

One possible defense strategy is the lack of evidence. A criminal defense attorney can have your case dismissed by claiming the prosecution has insufficient evidence supporting their accusation against you.

If you were forced to commit fraud due to threats of violence, your attorney can also argue that you would not have committed the crime otherwise.

Find an Attorney

If someone suspects or investigates you for fraud, speak to a criminal defense attorney immediately. An experienced defense lawyer can help with criminal investigations and defend your rights through the criminal justice process.


1. New Data Shows FTC Received 2.8 Million Fraud Reports from Consumers in 2021
2. What Is Fraud?
3. forgery
4. counterfeiting
6. 18 U.S. Code § 1029 – Fraud and related activity in connection with access devices
7. 18 U.S. Code § 1344 – Bank fraud
8. APPLICABILITY OF 18 U.S.C. § 1344

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