By Brian New

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DALLAS (CBS11) – Reports of scary clowns causing harm and threatening schools has swept the nation in recent weeks.

In North Texas, this clown craze has caused major disruptions at dozens of schools. Several students have been arrested and face charges of making terroristic threats.

“In our school system it’s very pervasive,” said Dallas ISD Police Chief Craig Miller. “It’s going throughout the schools. We’ve had hundreds and hundreds of these complaints … This is not something that is a joke and I don’t think the students realize that.”

Chief Miller said there’s a lot people don’t realize about these threats from how serious the consequence can be for spreading a rumor on social media to what parents should tell their children about these threats.

So to help separate the facts from the rumors, here are the top five things you need to know about these clown threats:

1. How did it start?
The frenzy started in South Carolina in late August. Reports surfaced of clowns trying to lure children into the wood. Police officers never found any clowns. The reports appear to be made up but that didn’t stop a national craze from starting.

2. Have any threats proved credible?
No, according to law enforcement. The vast majority of cases don’t even involve people dressing up in clown costumes scaring people. Most have been cases of school threats made on social media.

3. What should parents tell their kids?
While the threats may not be real that doesn’t mean your child’s fear is not. Experts say the best thing you can do is help guide your child through the facts Here’s two good question to start with:
1. Where did the threat come from? While it is crucial for students to report threats they see on social media to an adult, parents can explain how reading about a threat on social media differs from hearing about a safety concern from a school official or law enforcement.
2. Did you actually see something? Experts say this is good opportunity to teach children to recognize odd behavior and report it to an adult.

4. How can we stop this craze?
For starters, don’t make the problem worse by sharing every rumor you hear on social media. That goes parents as well as their kids – along with the media.
Law enforcement is also hoping to stop some pranksters but sending a strong message that making threats is illegal and when it happens at a school the offense is a felony.

5. What will be the Halloween impact?
Many schools have banned scary clown costumes and several police departments are encouraging people to not wear clown costumes for Halloween.
However, sales of clown masks, according to costume retailer Halloween Express, are up 300 percent this year. In addition, eight of the top ten masks sold so far this year are clown masks.

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