Paradee Bill Would Close Debit Card Fraud Loophole

Criminals caught stealing or misusing debit cards would face the same penalties as credit card thieves under legislation crafted by Rep. Trey Paradee in cooperation with Attorney General Beau Biden’s office.

House Bill 246, introduced today, would update Delaware’s criminal code and broaden the “unlawful use of a credit card” statute to include debit cards and other types of payment cards. Prosecutors have encountered cases where the state’s credit card fraud law is not sufficient to charge and convict some defendants.

“The Department of Justice has told us that there is a loophole in state law that has allowed a person to escape credit card fraud charges because of outdated language. This is a serious issue that needs to be fixed so more criminals don’t fall through the cracks,” Rep. Paradee said. “Whether the case involves a debit card or a credit card, stealing is stealing, and it’s no less damaging to the person whose finances are thrown into upheaval by the thief.”

In 2012, a judge dismissed 22 counts of credit card fraud against a man who used his girlfriend’s PNC Bank debit card to gamble at Delaware Park without her permission, even though the man confessed to doing so. Because of the narrow definition of “credit card” under current Delaware law, the defendant’s attorney was able to argue successfully for the dismissal of the charges. The defendant was convicted of misdemeanor theft offenses only.

“Thieves using a debit card to commit their crimes should not be able to avoid being held accountable because of a technicality,” Attorney General Biden said.

Debit cards are different than credit cards because they are used to deduct funds directly from a bank account, similar to writing a check or withdrawing cash. When a purchase is made with a credit card, the amount due is paid by the credit card bank, which then bills the cardholder at a later date and charges interest, like a loan.

The draft measure effectively replaces the definition of “credit card” and numerous references to it in the state’s criminal code with the term “payment card,” which would include debit and check cards, credit cards, EBT cards and any other type of device or item “for the use of the cardholder in obtaining money, goods, services, or anything else of value.” The definition also extends to the number assigned to any such card, to cover cases where a thief commits a crime without using the physical card.

Convictions for various payment card crimes in Delaware range from misdemeanors to felonies that include mandatory jail time.