Break-in targets: Criminals using symbols to mark potential victims' homes

Feb. 14, 2013

Courtesy Criminal Investigation Division office, Wiesbaden

WIESBADEN, Germany -- A recent break-in at a servicemember's off-post residence in Eltville, Germany led German police to share a warning with their U.S. military counterparts to be on the lookout for criminals who may be targeting homes in the Rhein-Main area.

According to a crime prevention flyer from the Wiesbaden Criminal Investigation Command Office, a servicemember assigned to Clay Kaserne was the victim of a burglary while the individual was away on temporary duty.

"Once her house was noticeably unoccupied for several days, the group marked her residence using symbols drawn in the snow," the German police reported. "The group returned and broke in, stealing numerous pieces of jewelry, loose Euro cash and other small items with a total value of approximately $700.

"The group broke in through a glass rear patio door," the report said, noting that the shades on the home's windows and doors (German rolladen) had not been lowered while the inhabitant was away.

The German police also reported finding several symbols drawn in the snow which most likely indicated the status of the dwelling. A triangle symbol reportedly means "woman living alone," a sawtooth -- "vicious dog" and a circle with arrows -- "worth looking into."

"Based upon the correct symbols, the group had obviously performed surveillance on the residence prior to the servicemember departing on TDY," the report said, and confirmed that the woman indeed owns a German shepherd that was boarded elsewhere during her absence.

The German police reported that since November, 28 other homes have been burglarized by the same group in the Rhein-Main area. But U.S. Army Europe Office of the Provost Marshal officials said all members of the U.S. forces community in Europe should beware, because the problem isn't confined to that region, or even to Germany.

The symbols are usually drawn on the sidewalk or a brick or stone area near the mailbox in chalk or another form of marker.

Residents have been reminded to remain vigilant and aware of their surroundings and any suspicious markings and to secure their rolladen, if equipped, when they are away from home for an extended periods of time.

Military law enforcement officers said other security measures include having a close friend or trusted unit member conduct periodic checks of when you're away for extended periods, as well as picking up your mail or newspapers and shoveling snow, to give the impression that someone is home. They also suggested letting neighbors know them when you will be away, so they can notify law enforcement of any suspicious activity.

Suspicious activity or markings should be reported to local German or military police.

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