Denver Police use private social network to warn of scams

Next Door connects neighbors based on location

DENVER - Scammers are trying to get money from Denver residents by pretending to be police officers seeking money for fines.

According to Denver Police, people are calling residents in the Denver-area, threatening arrest if they don't pay a fine. The people are also manipulating the Caller ID to make it look like they're calling from Denver Police District Three.

One of the ways Denver Police warned residents about this scam was through a private social network service called Next Door. It's a 21st Century take on the old Neighborhood watch.

"We can talk to the police and we can talk to each other," said Joy Sykes.

Sykes is a mom who lives in the Washington Park West neighborhood. She started using Next Door six months ago.

"We share pictures and we share descriptions of vehicles and suspects in the area," said Sykes. "I think it just makes us more vigilant, that we can take steps if we see something suspicious."

Earlier in the week, a neighbor posted a note on the social network site, warning about a suspicious person she saw in a car.

"She called the police and then immediately notified the neighbors on the block watch, to say, 'Hey, this car is in the area and this is what I just did," said Sykes.

According to the post, the neighbor walked up to the suspicious person and asked what he was doing. The person told her he was waiting for a friend, and then sped off. She posted that she called the police with his description and wanted to warn other neighbors. According to the post, police made contact with the man, based on her information.

"Before that how would neighborhood watch have worked?" asked 7NEWS reporter Marshall Zelinger.

"Oh, well it wouldn't have," said Sykes.

"I think the neighborhood's getting more organized," said Eric Johnson.

Johnson is also a resident of Washington Park West. He said prefers this private social network over Facebook because it allows him to be connected with neighbors without revealing too much.

"Facebook's a little bit more personal for me," said Johnson. "It's more about what's going on in my neighborhood, but I can still remain somewhat private from my neighbors. They don't have to know all my business."

He said the service was helpful last month when other neighbors noticed another suspicious car.

"Two weeks ago we had someone else snap a picture of a car with a license plate number on it that police were eventually able to use," said Johnson. "That type of information, where neighbors are able to share that instantaneously through the neighborhood to say, 'Hey, this guy looks suspicious.' Now, it's becoming a more effective tool for us as homeowners."

There are still neighborhood watch signs in the Washington Park West neighborhood. The neighborhood watch has taken on different looks since requiring residents to meet in someone's living room on a consistent basis.

When Jessica Ridgeway's backpack was found in October, in the town of Superior, residents utilized a group email list to communicate.

Johnson said he preferred the new digital method.

"This gives us a little bit more dynamic communication, in that I can get the email and I can go on and also see what's going on in the neighborhood later on when I'm at home," said Johnson.

Next Door also allows residents to communicate about social events. It requires address verification when you register, so users are only connected with their direct neighbors and not residents from miles away.

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