You’ve likely heard of the social media site for your neighborhood called “NextDoor”. While the concept is great, it may not be safe. This post exists to help you be “neighborly” in a smart, more alert way.
First of all, what is “Nextdoor” ?
Per Nextdoor, it is the “private social network for your neighborhood”. Per Wikipedia, “Nextdoor is a social networking service for neighborhoods. Based in San Francisco, California, the company was founded in 2008 and launched in the United States in October 2011, and is currently available in 11 countries”. Supposedly, users of Nextdoor must submit their real names and addresses to the website.
In layman’s terms, this means that you go to their website, enter your address, and you are automatically placed in the correct group for your neighborhood. In other words, you will be placed in the same “private group” as your neighbors. This means someone in Minneapolis cannot see the posts from a group in Denver, nor can you “share” like you can on Facebook. So essentially, anything posted in your group is supposed to be private.
For example, let’s say I joined Nextdoor when I moved to St. Paul, Minnesota and was auto-placed in the “Payne Phalen Neighborhood”. Now, let’s say that next month I moved to Austin, Texas and, as long as I used a different email address, I would be auto-placed in the “West Lake Hills Neighborhood”. Nextdoor has no way of knowing that I moved, so they are trusting us with transferring our account to the new address. According to their terms of service, we are supposed to do just that. But I wonder how many people choose not to and how many may innocently forget to do so?
What this means is that you can technically stay in your “old” neighborhood group and join your “new” neighborhood group with your new address. Sure, this is a great way for landlords to help keep an eye on their property across the country or world, but it also causes safety and even legal concerns. I mean, just think of the crazy stalker ex who wants to keep an eye on you!
Secondly, is Nextdoor safe?
Nextdoor states on their site, “[we] make it safe to share online the kinds of things you share with your neighbors in person. Every neighbor must verify their address in the neighborhood. Nextdoor is securely encrypted using the HTTPS Internet protocol”.
Um, but is it safe?
Well, supposedly Nextdoor verifies the members who join by asking for a utility bill. However, as a licensed investigator, I did a little experiment. I created a fake utility bill online (changing only the address and made-up account numbers) and they only asked for ONE verification out of 4. So after submitting the one fake utility bill… wah-lah – within two hours, I was the proud founder (aka: “lead”) of a private neighborhood group in Tennessee, New Jersey, Florida, and California. So yep – that’s a loophole that anyone with even 1/2 of a *techie brain* can jump through.
And that’s exactly what happened last year, December 2018.
Some neighbor who I didn’t know, posted how she had to rehome her beloved pet due to blah, blah, blah. Other neighbors berated her for giving up her pet, while others were supportive. All I said was, “Yes, it is sad when someone feels they have no other choice but to rehome a pet. However, there is no need to pass judgment. Instead, let’s focus on helping her pet find a new, loving home”.
Some other neighbor – supposedly a “lead” – private messaged me and told me to stop telling people it is OK to sell dogs on the group. WHAT?! I didn’t even use the words “ok”, “sell” or “dogs”. I responded that he may have messaged me in error. Instead, he went on Yelp, Google Business, and pretty much everywhere else he could and gave me horrible reviews! He then started calling and sending threatening and sexually-perverse texts and even sent an escort to my home. At least once he followed me to the grocery store, and several times he drove by my home, etc.
As a licensed investigator, I reported him to police but I also did some digging on my own and found out these things about him:
(1) He used a fake name on Nextdoor (against their policy and obvious proof that they didn’t verify him). However, I found his real name when he left a review on Yelp about the “custom tattoo” he received in 2016. He mentioned the name and location of the tattoo shop and the artist as well as a picture of his face and his tat. Then on Facebook, I found out his wife worked for Cigna and saw their vehicles (and license plates!). Gotcha.
(2) He did not live in our neighborhood and NEVER DID so he should not be in our “private neighborhood group” on Nextdoor (also, against their own policy). Hmmm… I wonder if he was someone’s crazy stalker ex?
(3) He worked for the Emergency Management Department for our county. Which means he has access to *everyone’s everything* or anything accessible through the county’s record system.
Now the real kicker to this all was that, even after showing both Yelp Legal and Nextdoor Legal the stacks of proof, they were very uncooperative. Only after I had my attorney threaten a lawsuit against both of them did Yelp remove those fake reviews and Nextdoor actually remove this so-called “lead”.
So I then decided it’s time for me to use a fake name & photo so I could still keep abreast of the crime in the area and other emergencies, but also keep from away from the sociopaths of the group. So I chose to use my maiden name (not really a fake name I guess since it was my legal name for over 30 years). I also changed my photo to my high school graduation picture. Again, not fake… it really was my picture.
Everything was quiet until December 2019.
I was minding my business when some woman pushing a baby in a stroller walked up to my home and accused me of signing for her package. She said, “The post office said it was delivered here and you signed for it. They gave us your address and I am here to pick it up”. When I told her I had no clue what she was talking about, she threatened to “press charges since it’s a federal offense to open and keep someone else’s mail”.
I said, “Well since I’ve worked in the law enforcement field as a forensic handwriting expert for 30 years, I’d love to see that signature”. Without saying another word, she walked away.
Several things are wrong with this scenario:
(1) If you really think someone has your stolen package, are you going to risk taking a baby to an unknown place? Are you going to go without another adult present? I could have been cooking meth, or been a drug dealer, child molester, sexual predator, or an ax murderer… I would like to believe that even the worst of mothers would think twice about doing that and put the safety of her child first.
(2) My friend is a retired Sheriff Deputy and he was our mail carrier for 2 years before retiring last year. He had told me that their USPS scanner tells the general – but not the exact – area where things were delivered. For example, if you have 3 mailboxes next to each other like I do, it will say that it was delivered to one of those mailboxes but will not say which one of the three. However, she claimed I signed for it. As an aside… because of my background, I was jonesin’ to see that signature!
Anyway, if the mail carrier would have brought me a package to sign for, I would have noticed it was not my name and obviously refused it. According to the Postal Inspector I spoke to yesterday, “If we believe a package was misdelivered, we will go back and check with all the houses to retrieve it. It is also against the law to give a private individual someone else’s private address because of the safety concern. Even if we knew it was there, we would still not reveal another address to anyone”.
(Note in the video below I used their own words “safety concern”)
Then his lady accuser’s husband went on Nextdoor and publicly posted to our entire neighborhood that I stole their mail and gave my exact address.
(3) Since the post office was closed when this occurred, my husband and I went there the following morning to see my supposed signature. I printed out his public post and I had hidden audio so I could record the whole thing. I did take a couple shots and a video short to prove I was there and rotated it throughout the video below for visual effects. However, you can hear the entire audio (with our addresses edited out for privacy).
Ironically (or maybe not), this accuser’s home address shares the same 1st four numbers of my home address but the street names are very different, and we are miles apart. Although these accuser’s and I were able to amicably agree that this was entirely a “weird” thing, and that, by process of elimination, the not-so-smart mail carrier is the one who messed up, this could have turned out bad for a couple reasons:
- We could have been unfriendly and aggressive when some random person came to our home and accused us of theft and then threatened us with the police.
- They could have been unfriendly and aggressive when I said I didn’t have it because if they really thought we had their stolen property, well… it could have turned out very differently.
Plus, the mother and baby could have been scouts to target our home.
So to ask whether or not Nextdoor is safe really depends on several factors. However, in my experience, it seems December is the most unsafe in my specific neighborhood. Maybe there is an “unsafe pattern” in yours?
Bottom line is that I love having the ability to see what my neighbors are selling (beats driving across town), if they need help with something, the fun community activities, and also the crime blotter… but I have taken my self-protection a bit further due to these two experiences…
Since Nextdoor really doesn’t seem to care about vetting anyone or truly verifying anything, I used a picture of my former high school boyfriend (with his permission since he lives across the USA) and used 1/2 of my name and 1/2 of his name to create a new name. That’s my profile now. Strange and perhaps adding to the unsafe factor is that after doing so, I (um, he) was made a “lead” in my neighborhood group. I have no clue how that happened especially since according to Nextdoor’s Terms of Service – I’m technically not a real person and should not be on there.
So please let this be a reminder to you to always be smart and vigilant when protecting yourself and your family – including your property, mail, and pets!
After all, these people were once someone’s neighbor too!
((Obviously, I have since deleted my 4 fake accounts but I feel it was a necessary act for this experiment and I have all the proof needed just in case it ever comes up)).
Ms. Mozelle Martin, FMHP, FHWE, PhD.
- 35-year International Forensic Handwriting Expert
- Author: What I Learned From Watching CSI
- Contracted Forensic Mental Health Professional for Jails & Prisons
- Creator of The Housecall Analyst forensic book series
- Forensic Consultant since 2007 – FindMeGroup.org
- Former Forensic Consultant – Criminal Minds TV show
- Media Commentator for ABC, NBC, TruTV, Crime Watch Daily, etc.
- Plantologist, Pianist, Photographer, and Artist