It's not Halloween yet, but there has been an increased number of sightings of creepy clowns.
Lurking in the woods, stalking children by schools and even scaring users on social media, people dressed in full-on clown costumes have become a real-life nightmare. And like a virus, this hoax is spreading across the country.
Starting as far back as late August, multiple reports of clown sightings began in South Carolina. And this isn't just some teenagers in face makeup we are talking about. The reports included children saying the clowns tried to lure them into the woods near an apartment complex in Greenville Country using money as bait.
Cases of clowns trying to get kids to come into the woods also have also been reported in North Carolina, with sightings also popping up in Florida, Virginia, Alabama, Ohio, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and now even New Jersey and New York.
With more and more sightings occurring - and terrifyingly most of them involve the clowns standing by schools and campuses or reportedly having swords or machetes - it's safe to say that this is now a national trend.
But what really is behind this creepy clown craze?
For starters, the internet could be partially to blame. There has been a rising popularity of "killer clown pranks" online thanks to YouTubers like DM Pranks and others.
These types of videos, which include an actor in full evil clown makeup and costume chasing victims (other actors) after showing a fake murder in parking lots or parks, began reaching viral status starting in 2014.
And while this trend seems to be playing out on YouTube for now, clowns continue to scare audiences in pop culture such as Twisty the clown from American Horror Story: Freak Show and Pennywise from the upcoming Stephen King reboot film It.
But the internet has also continued to play a role in the recent real-life clown scares. Chaparral High School students in Las Vegas reported receiving a Facebook request from "Garbo The-clown," with the person behind the account posting a threatening status telling the students to run on Sept. 27. "We're coming for you."
Threats that were sent to St. Joseph junior high school students in Missouri were reported on Sept. 30, with the troll(s) from multiple Facebook accounts revealing they were going to kidnap students and kill teachers.
Schools in Reading, Ohio were also closed in late September for safety concerns after a woman was attacked by someone in a clown costume.
While none of the social media threats have been credible, there have been arrests made tied to these creepy clowns. These include two clown-masked teenagers who were arrested for chasing children in Virginia, where it is illegal for anyone over the age of 16 to wear any mask or hoodie that hides their identity.
According to a Sept. 29 report from the New York Times, there have been 12 arrests made across the country tied to these hoaxes.
There have been quite a few cases of individuals - including high school students - being charged with making terrorist threats on Facebook associated with the clown hoaxes in Alabama related to "Flomo Klown," "Shoota Clown" and "Kaleb Klown" accounts.
Interestingly enough, many of the reports were found to be false. However, there has been one fatality linked to the craze in Reading, Pennsylvania involving the stabbing of a 16-year-old by someone wearing a clown mask.
Police have asked the public not to dress as clowns, stick to a curfew and watch children, but it appears that many aren't taking this craze too seriously (just check out #IfISeeAClown on Twitter). That's because evil clown sightings are nothing new. In fact, they have been occurring since the 1980s around Boston and for years ever since.
Truth is this strange trend picks back up again every few years. These include reports from 1991 when children claimed to see someone dressed as Homey D. Clown from In Living Color offering candy from his van that read "Ha-ha" on the side in Chicago, as well as six reports in the summer of 1997 in South Brunswick and Howell, New Jersey after a mentally disabled man dressed as a clown jumped from behind trees.
The increase of sightings may or may not have anything to do with the creation of Pennywise.
Hey, guys, time to cool the clown hysteria--most of em are good, cheer up the kiddies, make people laugh.
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) October 3, 2016
Cryptozoologist Loren Coleman calls this "The Phantom Clown Theory," where sightings are the cause of mass hysteria. With most of these reported sightings, no clowns are ever found, the same as in many of these current cases.
It appears like the current trend of creepy, evil clowns comes from a combination of factors such as the hysteria sparked from sightings by children (which may or may not be credible), media, social media, pop culture and just Halloween in general.
It's social media that makes this trend more chilling since anyone can be behind the threats. Plus there is proof that someone really is haunting people. However, it's easier to not believe this because of online trolls than when a kid reports seeing someone in a mask in the woods.
While it's extremely scary to come face-to-face with these clowns or spot them driving in vans along desolate roads, there is a good chance this phenomenon will continue on for years to come as it has in the past.
The fact of the matter is clowns are just straight up scary to most people.