Automobiles have been defaced in a couple of Northern Virginia communities in the past month, creating not only consternation but also mystification.

The consternation over the Loudoun County incidents is understandable, as nobody wishes to have his car spray-painted. The mystification stems from what has been painted on many of the cars: the number 68.

What does it mean? Why was it repeatedly spray-painted this month on cars in the Sterling and Ashburn areas?

“We still don’t know for sure,” said Kraig Troxell, a spokesman for the county sheriff’s office.

Conventional wisdom might suggest gang activity, as gangs are known to have their own signs and symbols.

But Troxell said that specialists in gang activities have been consulted and that “there’s no indication at this point that it’s gang-related.”

The sheriff’s office has received a few tips, from people with theories.

But, Troxell said, nothing has come in so far that would enable investigators to confidently determine who might be involved and what circumstances led to the repeated use of the numerals.

Troxell said that since the beginning of the month there have been “probably more than two dozen” incidents in which cars have been defaced or vandalized.

Incidents occurred as recently as Friday night or Saturday morning, Troxell said.

In some cases the “68” figure was not involved, but in those instances a car was found nearby that did bear the number. The proximity suggested a connection, he said.

Troxell said most or all of the incidents have occurred on weekends.

On one weekend this month that was characterized by rain, he said, no vandalism was reported.

Meanwhile, he said, the sheriff’s office has been looking into various possibilities, with no apparent success.

These have included the possible association of the numbers with letters of the alphabet.

Moreover, Troxell said, the distribution of the vandalized cars has seemed “pretty random” and does not suggest that individuals or groups have been targeted.

However, the possibility of a juvenile prank has not been ruled out.

Troxell asked that anyone with information, including the significance of the number 68, call Loudoun Crime Solvers at 703- 777-1919.

Sterling streets where the “68” was reported included North York Road, Bedford Drive and North Amelia Street.

Another of the Sterling area streets where a car was vandalized last weekend was South Ironwood Road.

People are not consumed by the mystery, but it did appear that they were discussing it.

“Nobody knows” the significance of the spray-painted 68, said a resident of South Ironwood Road.

The man said he preferred not to be identified by name.

“I’d rather not,” he said. “I don’t want my car painted.”

In an apparently unrelated incident involving automobiles in Loudoun, about two dozen cars were damaged in a single night last week in Leesburg, police there said.

Leesburg police said their first notice came in the form of a call about 3:30 a.m. Thursday from someone who heard car windows being smashed.

Police said officers went to the area, in the 500 block of Glade Fern Terrace, and found the damaged vehicles. Property had been taken from them, police said.

On Friday, the Leesburg Patch Web site, quoting a police news release, said a suspect had been picked up and charged with four larceny counts.