Higher Halloween crime rates make it a real fright night

Here's a spooky story. Oct. 31 lures more than just ghouls, goblins and the occasional caped crusader. Crime also makes the rounds on Halloween night as 175 million Americans hit the street to trick or treat -- in masks, in various states of inebriation or just up to no good.

Year-end holidays arrive with the advent of darkened evenings and are traditionally a time when crime rises. But the increase in thefts, snatch-and-grabs, and hit-and-runs usually occurs between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve, when people in a festive spirit leave their cars unlocked, wallets and credit cards on a counter and "porch pirates" go holiday shopping on your doorstep.

But now it appears that the second-biggest commercial holiday of the year, Halloween, is also up for grabs. Spending on "All-Hallows-Eve," originally a day of remembrance for the dead, will total $9 billion. That makes your house, decorated with orange lights and scary inflatables, a tempting target for both vandals and thieves -- especially when owners are out shepherding their children around the neighborhood or at a party.

"There are on average 17 percent more crime-related claims on Halloween," said Scott Humphrey, who handles risk control for Travelers, the third-largest personal insurer in the U.S.

Travelers isn't the only insurance company keeping a wary eye on things that go bump in the night, particularly when they happen to be motor vehicles. "Last year's Halloween claims data is pretty spooky," said Vice President Kevin Quinn of Mercury Insurance. Not only did policyholders report a big rash of broken windows, and cars getting keyed and egged, but also a lot of dings and dents in autos parked on the street.

It's bad enough if your garden gnome gets launched through your plate-glass window, but communities and police also worry about some really scary people. One New Jersey radio station names local sex offenders on its website. In Atlanta, police have knocked on the doors of all known felons to ensure they aren't participating in the festivities.

One university professor believes Halloween brings out the Freddy Kruegers of the world, possibly because of its association with paranormal psychology and urban legends. "The evening violent crime count on Oct. 31 is about 50 percent higher than on any other date during the year, and about twice the daily average," said Northeastern University professor James Alan Fox.

Even if you don't worry about black cats or creatures that lurk in the shadows, it still makes sense to take precautions. Here are some tips from insurers on how to protect your property:

  • Don't leave your home unoccupied. If you have to go out, leave lights and the TV on, and ask neighbors to keep a watch. Never put a spare key under the mat.
  • If you're home, make sure your walkway is well-lit to prevent trips and falls by children who can't see through their masks. Make sure to see who's at the door before you open it.
  • Keep pets indoors and under control. Dogs can become easily spooked by strangers, especially in disguises, and end up biting friends or children.
  • Put away outside movable objects such as grills, lawn mowers and bicycles that could be stolen, vandalized or thrown against your home.
  • Park cars in a garage, if possible, or in well-lighted areas and remove all valuables. Activate the car alarm when leaving.
  • If you're going out, remain on high alert and avoid children in dark costumes whose minds will be on candy, not safety.
  • Set up an informal "Neighborhood Watch." Some locales have a "Witch Watch" -- groups of volunteers who guard the community.
  • Ed Leefeldt

    Ed Leefeldt is an award-winning investigative and business journalist who has worked for Reuters, Bloomberg and Dow Jones, and contributed to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. He is also the author of The Woman Who Rode the Wind, a novel about early flight.