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Do burglars really mark houses before a burglary?

23 minutes ago South Africa

Do burglars really mark houses before a burglary?...

Home Markers

We get queries on a weekly basis asking for information on how houses are marked before burglaries, what the different markings mean, as well as reports from homeowners informing us that their houses have been marked for burglary.

What Does Actual Research Show?

First of all, let us look at research that were done by a former police Detective, Dr. Rudolph Zinn, from the University of South Africa.  He conducted extensive research on house robberies by interviewing convicted suspects in jail.  As from C.O.B.R.A. SELF-DEFENCE, here is an extract from his book that is titled “Home Invasion”.

“It is a popular urban legend that robbers mark houses that they plan to rob. There is speculation in the media and in popular discourse that different types of markers convey coded messages aimed at other groups of criminals or attackers. Commonly used markers are said to be plastic bottles and ribbons tied to a fence or crayon markings on the pavement or fence. The responses of the robbers in this survey suggest that marking is not common practice at all. The majority (80%) said they have never heard of house robbers, whether in towns or farms, marking houses before a robbery. They said there was no need for such practice since they obtained detailed information from inside informers about the target house and had generally kept the house under surveillance. They also pointed out that since they did their own preparatory work there was no need to use coded messages. Two of the respondents said that they had at times marked a house or a farm before a robbery by placing an object on the pavement or next to the road in front of the house, or tying something that served as a ribbon to the fence. However, their purpose was not to leave a coded message but simply to make sure they could easily locate the targeted premises when they returned, especially if they did not know the neighbourhood very well. In an age where sms text messages are ubiquitous it is not clear why people so readily believe that a system of coded messages would be necessary. Robbers can in any case take photos of the target with a cell phone camera or send a sms message with directions. From my discussions with people on the topic, it appears that people&39;s readiness to believe in these types of ‘detective story&39; methods arises out of a feeling of helplessness and fear. Sadly, there are also reason to think that some ‘security experts&39; exploit this fear by offering quasi ‘proof&39; that such coding or marking systems exist. Some go so far as providing ‘training courses&39; in which people can learn how to read and interpret these ‘coded messages&39;. One of the coded messages these ‘security advisors&39; claim can be understood from studying signs is said to communicate how many days it is before the planned ‘attack&39; will take place. It appears as if some of the techniques used by burglars to determine whether someone is at home, are misunderstood as a coded message. A few of the robbers said they had on occasion placed marker objects to determine whether the residents of the house were away, for example an empty can or bottle in the driveway, or a piece of paper under the front door. Alternatively they would throw a can or bottle into the yard in a place where the residents would easily be able to see and remove it, or they would close the valve on the main water inlet pipe to the house. The next day they would return and see whether the object had been removed or the water valve had been opened. Another technique was to place a piece of adhesive tape between the closed gate and the gate post, or force a piece of paper or plastic into the gap. The robbers would later check whether the marker was still in place”.

What Our Experience Tells Us

Now, to come back to personal experience from what we have seen over the many years we&39;ve been involved in the fight against crime, working very closely together with the SAPS and Security Companies in our community.

I have in the two years only seen two houses marked.  The reason being that the houses were against a veld, and the house robbers had to come in on foot, after dark, without attracting attention to themselves.  In both these incidents the houses were a couple of meters away from the normal foot path that the people take through the veld.

Also in both incidents, a plastic bag was tied to branches of a tree directly behind the house that were targeted, with a piece of string running from the tree to the perimeter wall of the property.  This allowed them to find their way to the exact house, without using torches and making too much noise, in the dark.

We have had quite a few incidents where residents contacted us about their houses being marked and that there was going to a break-in.  In not one of these incidents do I ever recall that a positive break-in occurred at that property even weeks after we were notified of the markings.  In two separate incidents we investigated the markings.

One of the marking incidents investigated

A resident contacted us about his house being marked for house robbery.  As usual, members of the Community Police Forum went out to the residents house to investigate.

The resident showed us two red coke cans lying in front of his house on the grass.  Nearby we found two empty chocolate wrappers, as well as a chips packet wrapper as well.

We noticed the house across the road had CCTV cameras pointing directly out through the palisade fence to the “marked house”.  We went back to visit the homeowner and asked if we could review the CCTV footage.

We found that earlier that afternoon, two kids coming from school were sitting talking to each other in front of the “marked house”.  They were drinking coke and eating some snacks.  Upon departing from the property, they just left their rubbish behind.

However, when residents report possible markings to us, we still investigate and to be on the safe side, arrange for additional patrols by Community Police Forum members as well as security companies, however in the marking incidents that have been reported to us there were only the two positives and the markings were found after-the-fact.

What we also found

At the moment the MO and tendency is criminals that walk past your house, knock to see if someone opens and is home.  If there seems to be nobody home, they jump the fence and attempt to break in.  They usually have backpacks that contain their basic house breaking equipment.

Furthermore, the guys like to drive around in vehicles, stop in front of gates and knock and hoot to see if someone is home.  If not, they lift the gate, drive in and break in.  If someone is home and comes out, they tend to speed of and go try somewhere else, or in some cases spin some hard to believe or vague story.

What are the typical methods of marking that are being reported?

  • Red Coke Tin – This is supposed to mean that the house robbers should expect resistance.  Also supposed to be an indication if someone is home or whether nobody is home depending on the position of the coke tin.  Opening towards home, someone is home.  Coke tin standing upright, nobody is home.
  • White Objects – This can be anything from white plastic bags, sorghum cartons to white bottles etc.  This is supposed to indicate that the house is an easy target.
  • Green Marker – This is supposed to be directional markers.
  • Blue or Blue and White Objects – They are supposed to indicate an easy target and that someone on the inside will help.
  • Black Object – Stock theft, like for example dogs.

Once again, like in the incident above, these objects are most likely just rubbish that has been left behind by someone, or that was blown over to the property by the wind, or thrown out the window of a moving vehicle driving past.

Another thing is that someone that is particular about the neatness of their home and cleanliness of their home, will pick up and throw away these objects very quickly, resulting in the marker disappearing and becoming useless.

We live in a day and age of mobile phone technology.  There is no need for these house robbers and criminals to mark houses or use codes.  They can just whatsapp or sms the relevant information to each other.  Take photos of the properties etc.

Numerous suspects have been found with photo evidence on their mobile devices of houses they were scouting with messages of the movements of the home owners etc

Another reported method of marking properties for house robberies can be seen in the image below, with some actual meanings used by city councils next to it:

Further house markings that are reported to have certain meanings is listed next:


Z painted on stopsign or on road –houses in street targeted for burglary.

Pile of little stones – warns of dogs

Two big stones together – two old people

Stones placed in a row – indicates how many people in the house

Swaztika painted on road – houses in street targeted for burglary. Direction of the swazika indicates which house is the target.

Simba (or Lays) chips packets – normally neatly folded, but sometimes weighed down by something inside the packet

Brick – normally indicates a car to be stolen

2 or 3 bricks (normally new bricks)  – house robbery


Immediately remove and dispose of all markers

We cannot confirm nor deny the use house of markers to indicate houses being targets for house robbery.  What we can do is look at our own experience, in our own area and from investigations that have been done by CPF members, SAPS and Security Company members, and combinations of the lot.

As we&39;ve stated above, we have had two positive incidents of houses being marked that is against the veldt.  But from experience, the house robbers in the area use domestic workers or gardeners to assist, making it an inside job, or they sit and watch the houses, recording all the details on their mobile phones.


However, if you do see objects lying around which you might suspect is markers for your house and that you might as result of that fall victim to a house robbery, please remove these objects immediately and dispose of them.  Rather be safe, than sorry.

You know what belongs at your house or in front of your house, and what is really out of place and unusual, not just most likely rubbish that has been blown around or just thrown down onto the ground by someone.

If you suspect your house is marked, please report it to your local Community Police Forum or Armed Response company to investigate.

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