Credit card fraud is a form of theft. But many people assume this means that you have to be the one who actually steals the card or the information to use it.Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth. Even if you did not personally commit the theft, you can be charged for using credit card information that has been stolen. It’s something that the women who turned to Terilyn Riggins for help know all too well.Who is Terilyn Riggins? She’s the woman apparently at the center of a host of fraudulent credit card transactions in Florida – transactions that she didn’t make. Orlando police Detective Todd Herb recently finished a nine-month investigation of identity theft cases in the area with the arrest of Ms. Riggins. She is being charged with identity theft, scheme to defraud, and grand theft of over $20,000.
How the Theft Ring Worked
Riggins isn’t the only person in trouble, though. Even though Riggins claimed full responsibility for the actual theft, over 14 women were arrested and charged for using the credit card information that Riggins stole.What’s the story? How are these other women involved?Apparently, Riggins would obtain stolen personal information to help other women pay for plastic surgery and dental work. In the past year, her crime ring was responsible for over $50,000 worth of fraudulent transactions. Riggins stole credit card information and would set up other suspects as “authorized users” so that they could pay (or attempt to pay) for their procedures. The women usually told doctors that the stolen credit card information was a relative’s who offered to pay for the treatment.In exchange for setting up the accounts, the women either paid Riggins a fee or offered small services (home-cooked meals, hairstyling, etc.). Most of the women who were involved in the identity theft ring had befriended Riggins while serving time in jail. Riggins has been convicted in the past for several theft crimes, including grand theft.So, the real questions are: Were the other 14+ women involved in this scam aware of how much trouble they could get into if they were caught? Did they truly understand the crime they were committing?
Consequences for Credit Card Fraud
Fl. Stat §817.568 defines the criminal use of personal identification information as: “Any person who willfully and without authorization fraudulently uses, or possesses with intent to fraudulently use, personal identification information concerning an individual without first obtaining that individual’s consent, commits the offense of fraudulent use of personal identification information, which is a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in §775.082, §775.083, or §775.084.”Credit card fraud has similar consequences that are defined under the Florida State Credit Card Crime Act. Depending on the amount of money involved in the credit card fraud, the charge could be classified as a first degree misdemeanor or a third degree felony. The goods obtained through the credit card must be valued at over $100 for the fraud to be classified as a third degree felony.First degree misdemeanors are punishable by up to one year in prison and/or a fine of up to $1,000. Third degree felonies are punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a fine of up to $5,000.
Defenses against Fraud and Theft Charges
Fraud and theft charges often go hand in hand. If you find yourself in a similar situation like the friends of Terilyn Riggins, it still may be possible to avoid a conviction for theft. There are defense strategies that can help you and your lawyer negotiate an appropriate sentence, have the charges dropped, or prove your innocence. Keep the following pieces of legal advice in mind:
- You are innocent until proven guilty.
- You do not have to confess, testify, or answer any questions that may incriminate you.
- If you were not aware that property or information you used was stolen, you should make that known in court.
If you have used credit card information that was stolen by a friend or relative, you can still be charged and convicted of a crime. An experienced criminal defense attorney can walk you through your options, possible penalties, and proper defenses in court.About the Author:Attorney David W. Olson is the founder of the Law Offices of David W. Olson in West Palm Beach. He has been practicing criminal law and successfully representing clients throughout the State of Florida for over 30 years. Throughout his legal career, Mr. Olson has been honored numerous times for both his dedication and excellence in criminal law. He proudly holds the Martindale-Hubbell AV Rating, as well as being recognized as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013), in the Nation’s Top One Percent of attorneys (2015), and as a 10 Best Member of the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys (2015). He has even received commendations from members of congress and other public officials for the fantastic work that he's done. Mr. Olson graduated from the University of Florida’s Fredric G. Levin College of Law in 1981 and has been a member of the Florida Bar since 1983.