ARE sophisticated gangs of thieves prowling Oswestry's streets?
Hundreds of concerned home owners have contacted police this week to report sightings of suspicious markings on their garden fences which they believe are secret codes sprayed on by thieves to let other burglars know which homes to target.
The symbols may indicate that a home is wealthy, has already been burgled or may have nothing worth stealing.
In Oswestry, it appears that burglars are also spraying symbols to either warn other thieves that there is a dog present or even that there is a valuable dog worth stealing to sell on the black market.
Last night (Tuesday) the Facebook page 'Oswestry Free, For Sale or Swap' saw hundreds of people post comments about potenital markings, while the Twitter feed @OsCops - which is updated by members of Oswestry Safer Neighbourhood teams - also warned residents of the chilling markings.
OsCops tweeted: "Unknown X sprayed on back garden gate to Oswestry house. House anyone else seen anything similar on thier property?"
The crime code is not new to the UK and in the past a simple X - like the one brought to the attention of Twitter users by @OsCops - means the home is a good target.
Other codes used over the years are said to include a star (wealthy), a capital D with a dash through it (too risky) and an open book shape (vulnerable female).
Llinos Rastall, from Balmoral Crescent in Oswestry, discovered a cross painted on her fence on yesterday evening.
She told the Advertizer: "I hardly slept last night and every person who walks past our house I'm looking at, any rustling in the garden I'm wondering what it could be, I've locked all the doors, I'm too scared to let the dog out."
The 23-year-old added that although she was unsure what the cross meant, the fear that it could lead to her Staffordshire Bull Terrier being stolen or the house being broken into, was enough for her to take action to protect the house and garden with anti-theft devices.
She added: "It makes me feel completely unsafe in my own home. I'm scared to think someone might have been looking through my windows and into my back garden like that."
TNS footballer Greg Draper, whose home was broken into between 1pm and 5pm on Thursday, July 31 says he has since found a red spot sprayed on his garden fence.
The thieves who broke into the New Zealand international's home in York Street made off with his Apple MacBook, a white iPhone 4s, a black iPod, Sony Playstation games and a controller.
Not only distraught by the robbery the striker is baffled as to how the thieves got past his dog.
On Twitter Draper wrote: "They had to get past the dog somehow so I want to know how they did this as the dog hasn't been himself since."
Draper tweeted a picture of the red dot to @OsCops who were interested to know if he had a dog.
@OsCops are urging people with information about the ancient markings or any sighting of such codes to contact police on 101 and to keep doors and windows lock and remove keys from doors.
PCSO Andy Neeves, of Oswestry Police Station, told the Advertizer: "We have only had two formal reports of these markings but obviously by looking at Facebook and Twitter we are aware of possibly more.
"We are aware that both people who reported these markings are Staffordshire Bull Terrier owners but we cannot confirm if the markings are markings of gangs targeting dog owners for dog bating.
"What we do urge is for people to report these markings to the police and to be extra vigilent."
Have you discovered a mysterious marking on your property? Get in touch with our newsdesk on 01691 655321 or email firstname.lastname@example.org