A STRAY cool drink can in front of your property could be a potential marker for robbers, according to the Western Cape Provincial Police Board.

The board said criminals using coded markers was a reality, and was not just urban legend.

Frequently e-mails are circulated warning of prospective robbers who put certain items outside houses to indicate whether homeowners are there or not.

Police, however, said that while they were aware of the tactics, there was no evidence to prove they were being used.

But the board said it had seen cases where such items were in front of homes that had been burgled, and warned residents to make sure that their pavements were clean, urging them to remove items which could serve as markers.

An e-mail that recently started circulating says items include an upright Coke can, which means nobody is home.

A pile of stones lets robbers know that there are dogs on the property, and two big stones indicate that two elderly people live in the house.

A blue and white packet, such as a Clicks bag, tells robbers that the homeowner is an easy target and that someone inside the house is willing to help with the robbery.

A white plastic bag stuck on a fence also means that there is an easy target inside the house.

Chip packets are weighed down with items, and one pointing to the house means that the owner is at home.

One facing the road means no one is at home.

A “Z” painted on a stop sign or a swastika painted on the road means houses in the street have been targeted for burglary.

The e-mail also warned that strange items in front of your home could be part of a ploy to trap you – like cardboard boxes, bricks or tree branches.

Do not stop and remove them, you will be a soft target – instead phone the police or your security company.

Hanif Loonat, spokesman for the Western Cape Provincial Police Board, said they had been to homes which had been burgled and found some of these items on the pavements.

Loonat said a Sprite can let robbers know the coast was clear, while a Fanta can was a signal that robbers should exercise caution because it was not clear whether the homeowners were there or not.

He said in some cases vagrants, who appeared to be searching for scrap with their trolleys, were acting as “scouts” and placing the items.

“They are not looking for scrap, that is just a front,” he warned.

Loonat said residents should check their pavements and make sure they were clear.

“We have been to houses after robberies and found these things there. It’s different, sometimes they use bottles to send out messages,” he said.

Police spokesman Colonel Andre Traut said criminals used “creative” methods

, but police had “no record to substantiate this specific method”.

However he said people should be aware of their surroundings and should report any items that seem suspicious.