Gift Cards

Today, the First Department released a decision fitting for the holiday season, addressing whether a gift card constitutes a "debit card" for purposes of the Penal Law.  In People v. Stokes (1st Dept. 1/5/2010), the defendant was charged with criminal possession of two stolen gift cards.  The defendant argued that the gift cards did not qualify as debit cards because they were not issued to specific persons with a business relationship to the cards' issuers.  The court rejected this unpreserved claim.  A debit card is defined as "a card, plate or other similar device issued by a person to another
person which may be used, without a personal identification number,
code or similar identification number, code or similar identification,
to purchase or lease property or services," but "does not include a
credit card or a check, draft or similar instrument."  A gift card meets this definition because it does not require a PIN and is not a credit card, check, draft, or similar instrument.  The statute does not require a specific named holder or a business relationship between the issuer and possessor.  Accordingly, although "debit card" in common parlance denotes a banking card, a gift card nevertheless fits the statutory definition and the defendant was properly convicted.  (LC)

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