California Duo Face Bank Fraud Charges

A man and woman who were part of a California fraud ring used fake credit cards and conspired with another person feigning as a customer service representative to steal thousands in cash advances from credit unions and banks in nine states.

Michael Lee Thomas, 46, of Oakland (pictured at left) and Barbara John Lopp, 53, of Stockton, pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud last month in US District Court in Oakland.

Although the FBI began investigating the fraud ring in June 2013, it wasnt until Feb. 12, 2015, when the couple was arrested at a branch of the $15.9 million Municipal Credit Union in Sioux City, Iowa, where their cash advance scheme drew suspicion from employees who contact police.

Iowa prosecutors charged the California couple with several felony counts of credit card fraud, forgery and identity theft, but those charges were dismissed after the federal indictment was filed on July 16.

Iowa police investigators said Thomas and Lopp hit more than 100 financial institutions in Iowa alone over three weeks. Because it was suspected that the duo might have carried out their scheme in at least three other states, law enforcement authorities posted a nationwide bulletin to alert financial institutions.

However, court documents revealed that Thomas and Lopp were also operating their cash advance scheme in eight other states: New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Florida, New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Oklahoma and Kansas.

After flying to a state, they would rent a car and drive to several financial institutions over the course of a few days. On some of these trips, the California couple would score $40,000 or more after hitting four or more financial institutions.

Thomas and Lopp would take turns going into the branch and sometimes told tellers the cash advance was needed to pay for a relatives funeral expenses. In addition to the fake credit cards, they also used bogus IDs.

When tellers processed the cash advance request, it would be declined. Thomas or Lopp would then say there might be a block because they were traveling outside of their normal geographic area and ask the teller to call the credit card company, according to court documents.

However, the toll-free number on the fake credit card also was fake, and the person who answered that number was working with Thomas and Lopp, according to court documents.

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