They lurk in the shadows with painted white faces, big red noses and silly hair before they jump out and scare children in the streets. A trend of clown sightings sweeping the country has managed to put people on edge, forcing them to take seriously a costume that is by definition silly.

One of the most recent sightings occurred in Phillipsburg, New Jersey, when a child was chased Sunday by three people who emerged from the woods dressed as clowns, according to media reports. Nobody has been hurt in the town but it’s the fourth such incident there. Residents are pleading with the troublemakers to stop their antics.

“I hope whoever's doing this just stops because some people are really getting nervous,” Ally Duddy, a Phillipsburg resident, told WABC-TV.

The local police announced intentions to handle the issue promptly but, judging by the wave of sightings across six states, the phenomenon seems to be gaining steam.

A separate clown sighting was also reported Sunday in Palm Bay, Florida. Officials in Tennessee have been warning residents to remain vigilant even though they said there hadn’t actually been sightings in the state. An 11-year-old Georgia girl was arrested last week for bringing a knife to school for protection against the potential predators after two Alabama schools were put on lockdown as a result of clown sightings earlier that week. The sightings date back to at least August, when a South Carolina community first started receiving reports of the creeps. These are not the only reports of clowns: More have been seen in North Carolina and Kentucky.

But, what’s motivating these clowns and are they even real? Halloween is about one month away and, perhaps, some hooligans are just hoping to ramp up the excitement in their communities to the chagrin of parents fearful their children will be harmed. At least some of the accounts have been proven false: Children in Maryland completely made up their clown exposure accounts, according to reports