A strange mark written on a NSW woman's doorbell left her frightened her house had been targeted by thieves.
Having read online that similar symbols have been used as a code amongst burglars identifying homes to rob, Woy Woy resident Catherine began searching for answers.
Describing the symbol as resembling an H with a slash through it, she turned to a local Facebook group on March 29 to ask for help.
“Just noticed our door bell by the front gate was marked by permanent marker,” she wrote.
“Any ideas? Do we need to report to the police?”
While some respondents appeared to share her concerns, many told her the idea was an urban myth and, according to authorities, the latter is likely true.
Speaking to Yahoo News Australia, Catherine said the strange marking left her frightened.
Adjusting to her new surroundings after having lived for years in China, she was unsure whether she should be genuinely concerned and reported the matter to police for help.
“I’d read online that burglars will mark houses with different signs or burglar language, saying this is a senior occupied place, or a single woman, a rental, or nothing worthy of robbing, or wealthy people,” she said.
“I’m very sensitive because the house was broken into once before, so I immediately feel that this is something I need to take seriously.”
Burglar's code an urban myth, police say
One week after the incident, Catherine says no more symbols have appeared on her property.
While rumours of a burglar’s code pop up on social media from time to time, NSW Police believe the idea is most likely an urban myth.
They said they were unaware of any instances of criminals operating in this way within Australia in recent memory, but anyone with information suggesting otherwise should contact Crime Stoppers.
Local police also confirmed they had no reported incidents or intelligence to suggest that homes in the Woy Woy area are being tagged or targeted in such a manner.
Overseas, rumours of such a criminal cypher make headlines from time to time, with Lanarkshire Police in Scotland sharing a post in 2015, asking if locals could break the “housebreaker’s code”.
While the claim resulted in headlines in newspapers across the UK, Scottish police have since said there was no evidence found to suggest there was a secret code.
A spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia divisional officers were concerned at the time because some garden sheds in the East Kilbride area had been marked with a cross.
They said general crime prevention guidance was issued and arrests were later made in connection with those incidents.
Online myth-busting site Snopes found rumours of a housebreaker’s code “unproven”, noting forms of the story have been alleged to have taken place in Texas, and revolved around car and dog theft.
The website points out marking homes and returning to rob them would be an “inefficient” way for criminals to target homes as it requires them to visit the home twice and this increases their risk of being caught.
Writing down an address and sharing that, they say, would be much simpler.
How homeowners can protect their homes from burglars
NSW police have advice to residents who want to lessen the chances of being burgled.
A police spokesperson said criminals were often opportunists, targeting homes with poor home security in order to steal possessions.
They suggest a few simple measures residents can take to protect their homes which include:
Lock all windows and doors when leaving the home and having a security alarm and lighting installed
Put away items such as ladders and power tools when not in use and never leave spare keys outside the home
Keep gates closed and locked, and ensure perimeter fences are in working order
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