Savana Robins and her family cherish the Winnie the Pooh lawn decoration they display every year on Halloween.
Standing 7 feet tall, the inflatable Tigger, depicted as a cheerful vampire, was a 2004 splurge by their father, whose name is Christopher Robins and who wanted to cheer up his family when finances were tight. Over the past two decades, the tiger was a Halloween season staple in their neighborhood in Omaha, Nebraska.
On Oct. 12, however, someone stole it off the family's property.
“I was angry,” Robins told TODAY Parents. "No one had ever messed with it before and we had no idea who did it."
After reviewing her home security camera footage and filing a police report, Robins’ neighbor found Tigger’s extension cord, which had been dropped in their yard, evidence Robins hopes will lead police to the thief.
Over the past few years, stealing Halloween decorations — a modern adaptation of egging cars and toilet papering homes — has been reported across Texas, Washington, New Mexico, Colorado, Virginia and other states.
The incidents support the findings in a new report by Travelers Insurance that suggests Halloween is a magnet for property-related crime. The data, which came from property claims on and around Halloween from 2011 to 2021, showed theft on premises increased by 11% and vandalism jumped by 68%.
That's sobering information to the 48% of parents who worry about home break-ins and vandalism while out trick-or-treating with their kids, according to the results of an October survey by SimpliSafe, a home security company.
Living near a high school, Shaina Menehan of Monroe, Wisconsin, suspects that teens were responsible for stealing her Halloween decorations for two years in a row.
This month, Menehan purchased three large pumpkins weighing upward of 40 pounds; she figured they were too heavy to steal with convenience. Yet someone has already pulled the stem off one and smashed another.
"We brought the third pumpkin inside because we knew it was next," she told TODAY Parents. "It's disgusting and disrespectful behavior." Menehan is buying home security cameras and has even reconsidered putting up her outdoor Christmas decorations.
Halloween-related mischief dates back to the medieval-era Catholic tradition “souling,” said Katherine Walker, an assistant professor of English at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
According to Walker, the three-day event celebrated All Hallows Eve (Oct. 31), All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2), during which revelers dressed as deceased loved ones and saints while feasting, praying and dressing in costumes to visit homes and ask for cookies called soul cakes.
“If a home had nothing to offer, visitors would say, ‘God bless you’ which may have implied a threat, although there's little evidence to prove that,” Walker told TODAY Parents.
A call for tracking devices, police reports
As Halloween approaches, parents are being advised to warn children that stealing Halloween decorations can lead to criminal charges, with penalties varying by state.
In 2018, five teenagers between the ages of 18 and 19 were arrested for stealing Halloween decor from homes in Iowa and charged as adults with theft in the third degree, a spokesperson from the Council Bluffs Police Department told TODAY Parents. The charge, an aggravated misdemeanor, is just below a felony.
Some thefts are being committed in broad daylight. On Oct. 15, security cameras at Oak Shadows Condominium in Austin, Texas captured a person dismantling a resident's 14-foot skeleton and loading it in a car on a private street.
Grazia Ruskin, president of the condominium's homeowners association, told TODAY Parents the act was "brazen" in the "tight-knit community."
Ruskin is offering a $50 reward for the $200 skeleton and is searching for leads within her community. "We haven't involved our police department out of respect for their highly constrained resources," she explained. "I'm hoping we can do most of the legwork ourselves to pinpoint the suspect."
According to threat management expert Spencer Coursen, author of "The Safety Trap," leveraging your community ties can increase the chances of catching a thief.
“The number one factor of target selection is the likelihood of success," he told TODAY Parents. "In other words, someone is less likely to steal decorations from a yard with a 'Beware of Dog' sign, or a home security camera, or flood lights."
Coursen suggests communicating with neighbors whose cameras might record a crime — and always file a police report.
"Some of the biggest crimes are often solved in minor incidents," he explained.
Coursen also advises people to place Apple AirTag or Samsung Galaxy SmartTag tracking devices in their decorations.
A community effort
Some victims, like Karen Fuller of Theodore, Alabama, take the law into their own hands.
Last year, Fuller donated her personal decor — an 8-foot spider and Mr. and Mrs. Frankenstein dolls — to the apartment complex where she works as a painter.
When her decorations went missing, Fuller checked the building's security cameras, which she said recorded a man taking the items and loading them into his car. Fuller then asked her community for help identifying the man.
One day, a man showed up at Fuller's apartment complex. "He asked to be anonymous and said he knew the thief and where I could find him," Fuller told TODAY Parents.
Fuller and her two office managers drove to a property where the suspect was running a yard sale. It didn't take long for Fuller to spot her Frankensteins.
"The guy remarked how excited I was to find the decorations," she recalled. "I said, 'I am — because they're mine!'"
Items in hand, Fuller and her friends fled, leaving the seller "dumbfounded."
"I don’t make a lot of money and it made my blood boil that someone would take my decorations," Fuller recalled. "I should have been a detective."