HUNTINGTON BEACH ( — Authorities have arrested seven people allegedly involved in an extensive bank scam netting as much as $100 million, police reported.

More arrests would be made as the investigation continues, Huntington Beach police Sgt. Dale Shields said Monday.

Investigators said the alleged scam artists stole from several large banks throughout the country.

It all started when a woman drained $24,000 from another person’s account at a Chase bank in Huntington Beach.

A bank surveillance image of the suspect was released in April. Calls from the public helped lead police to Kandi Puterbaugh, who pleaded guilty in July to using a counterfeit credit card and is awaiting sentencing on March 11.

More suspects have been accused of the same “account takeovers” and police suspect they had help from bank employees, Shields said.

A task force, which also included Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies as well as Los Angeles, Irvine and Huntington Beach police, served five search warrants last week.

“There are 50 to 55 we have identified or are going to identify, of which seven were arrested last week,” Shields said.

The thieves struck 300 to 500 bank branches, taking out $5,000 to $7,000 each time, according to Shields, who said the losses could be higher than what police have estimated thus far.

“The bad guys laugh at me when I say” up to $100 million, Shields said. The organizers of the scheme either bribed bank employees or already knew them, he said, noting that Bank of America has lost about $12 million. Investigators plan to meet with Citibank officials on Tuesday, Shields said.

Bank officials have worked closely with investigators, the sergeant said.

“The banks have bent over backward to help the victims. They’re trying to make it right,” Shields said.

(©2012 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)


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