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Fairfax County police say an illegal activity called “skimming,” in which electronic copying devices are placed over ATMs, might be making a comeback.

Police said Wednesday that more victims have come forth in the case of one such device that was discovered last week at the Inova Fairfax Hospital Cardiac Care Center in Falls Church.

According to police spokesperson Lucy Caldwell, an alert customer spotted the skimming device on the ATM and contacted hospital security, which immediately called police on Sept. 13.

Caldwell said the discovery coincided with calls that had been made to financial crime detectives complaining that different individuals’ ATM cards were being used fraudulently to purchase groceries, expensive coffees and, primarily, to get cash from other ATMs.

“Since then, many more victims have come forth,” Caldwell said.

According to the FBI, skimming devices planted on ATMs are usually undetectable by users and are purposely made to blend right into the ATM façade. Customers typically insert their ATM card into the phony reader, and their account info is swiped and stored on a small attached laptop or cell phone or sent wirelessly to the criminals waiting nearby.

In addition, skimming typically involves the use of a hidden camera, installed on or near an ATM, to record customers’ entry of their PIN into the keypad. According to the FBI, instead of cumbersome cameras, phony keypads also are sometimes placed on top of the real ATM keypad, recording keystroke as customers punch in their PIN. The FBI estimates the illegal practice costs many U.S. banks hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

Caldwell said the discovery at Inova’s Cardiac Care Center was particularly insidious because of its location.

“People using that facility are completely preoccupied with their health or the health of others,” she said. “Whoever put that device here intentionally was preying on people facing potential life-threatening situations.”

Skimming devices often are installed for short periods of time — usually just a few hours — so they’re often attached to an ATM by nothing more than double-sided tape, Caldwell said. The devices are then removed by the criminals, who download the stolen account information and encode it onto blank cards. Those cards often are used to make withdrawals from victims’ accounts at other ATMs, or used as check-cards.

“This particular one was unique in that we believe it was placed here in August,” she said. “But that also means the potential number of victims could be very high. It could be dozens, or even hundreds.”

Police report this crime is on the rise and they urge those who have used the machine in late August through Sept. 12 to check their statements closely. If they detect a discrepancy, they should contact their bank and police at 703-691-2131. They also may make an online report or learn more about financial crime scams at:

There have been no arrests in these cases, and the investigations are ongoing.