South African crime is so widespread and unpredictable that it is often hard to tell genuine cases from urban myths.

E-mails and the internet have become useful devices for South Africans who are fearful of becoming victims of crime, or seeing someone else become a victim, to warn each other.

There are hundreds of e-mails doing the rounds warning people about new and old crime trends.

In many instances these e-mails are picked up by influential people and, in some cases, reputable companies who continue to circulate the information before verifying whether they are fact or urban myth.

A case in point was the recent message put out by Chubb Security warning people not to "flash at any car with no lights on".

In a statement Chubb Security stated: "Police officers working with the Dare programme have issued this warning: if you are driving after dark and see an oncoming car with no headlights on, do not flash your lights at them. This is a Bloods (gang) member initiation game.

"The new gang member under initiation drives with no headlights, and the first car to flash their headlights at him is now his target. He is required to turn around and chase that car, then shoot and kill every individual in the vehicle, in order to complete his initiation requirements."

The message was signed off by Nick Potgieter, Community Policing Manager, Chubb Electronic Security.

When The Independent on Saturday contacted Chubb Security the company immediately responded by saying that if it was about the Bloods warning we should ignore it because the warning had been sent in error. They had believed it was true, but had later found it to be false.

Another urban myth says motorists should always ask for cash slips when putting in petrol, even if they intend throwing the slip away, because the pump attendants take these unclaimed cash slips from the cash register attendant and sell them to taxi drivers.

The taxi drivers then add these cash slips to their own and so claim a bigger subsidy from government.

But the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Transport spokesperson, Nonkululeko Mbatha, said taxis don't receive any subsidy from the government at this stage.

Another e-mail hoax that makes a return every festive season is a warning issued with an SAPS logo by a fake police inspector, Ian Roberts. In it, women are warned not to be surprised if naked women walk out of shopping mall restrooms because they may have been victims of a crime in which they are robbed of everything including their clothes.

Former Pavilion general manager Preston Gaddy has on several occasions had to refute these claims and assure people that this was a hoax and had never occurred.

National Police spokesperson Vish Naidoo has also assured the media that there was no such Inspector Roberts in the South African Police Service and confirmed that the warning was a hoax.

Another e-mail which was thought to be a hoax but is in fact true is one in which criminals are marking houses in Durban North with red items. In one incident a piece of a red cardboard carton was put behind a pot plant. Red is the code for a planned hijacking.

KwaZulu-Natal Police spokesperson Vincent Mdunge said they were aware of this and that they themselves had received a lot of these e-mails, both fake and true.

He said in some cases they were intended to either alarm or to intimidate people. However, Mdunge said members of the public should treat all these e-mails as urgent and report them to the police.