Understanding Return Fraud in California – PC 484(a)
The holiday shopping season is underway in Los Angeles and retailers are on the lookout for crimes of theft. This includes acts of return fraud, where items that have been stolen or purchased at another store are exchanged for cash. Return fraud is a crime of theft in Los Angeles and can carry significant criminal consequences.
What is Return Fraud?
Return fraud is a crime of theft in California. California Penal Code 484(a) PC defines theft as intentionally and unlawfully taking property that does not belong you to with the intent to deprive the true property owner of the use and enjoyment of that property. Theft can be committed in many ways, including by fraud. Theft by fraud occurs when you use false pretenses or deceit to obtain property that does not belong to you. When you return property that you have stolen or purchased from another retailer in exchange for cash or store credit you can face criminal charges for theft.
Examples of return fraud include:
- Returning an item that you have stolen, or know has been stolen, at a store in exchange for cash or credit;
- Returning an item for $200 at Store A that you purchased for $100 at Store B;
- Forging a receipt to show that you purchased an item that you have stolen;
- Entering a store, picking up a product off of the shelf, and immediately returning the item at customer service.
How is Return Fraud Proven?
When you are charged with return fraud in Los Angeles, prosecutors must prove that you intentionally and knowingly returned property that you did not purchase. Many times, this can be proven through the use of records and receipts kept by the retailer you have defrauded. In some cases, retailers may have video footage of the theft which can help to prove that the property you returned was not obtained lawfully.
How Can I Defend Charges of Return Fraud?
What happens if you unknowingly receive stolen property and try to return it to a store? What if you did not intend to defraud the merchant or shopkeeper by returning stolen property? There are certain times when you may be accused of return fraud but should not be convicted of the crime. When you find yourself accused of a crime that you did not commit there are certain arguments you can raise in your defense. Defenses that may be helpful in a Los Angeles return fraud case include:
- You lacked the required intent to defraud the retailer;
- You did not know that the property was stolen or unlawfully obtained;
- You were forced to commit the act by another person; and/or
- You have been falsely accused or mistakenly identified.
What are the Consequences of Return Fraud?
Return fraud is charged as a crime of theft under California Penal Code Sections 484(a) and 488 PC. In Los Angeles, return fraud can be either a misdemeanor or a felony offense. The specific charge you face will usually depend on the value of the property that is fraudulently returned.
Return fraud for property valued at $950 or less is a misdemeanor offense, punishable by up to 1 year in a Los Angeles County jail and/or $1,000. Return fraud for property valued in excess of $950 is a felony offense, punishable by up to 3 years in a California state prison and $10,000 in fines.
If you are facing criminal charges for return fraud in Los Angeles do not hesitate to contact The Rodriguez Law Group for immediate legal assistance. We can intervene in your criminal case immediately and fight to minimize the consequences of your arrest. Call our office today to schedule a free consultation with our legal team.