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A new kind of nosy neighbor

They say good fences make good neighbors, but thanks to the Internet, residents can peek over their neighbors' fences without leaving the comfort of their homes.


They say good fences make good neighbors, but thanks to the Internet, residents can peek over their neighbors' fences without leaving the comfort of their homes.

Before the Internet, neighborhood snoops had to poke around in records at the courthouse or sit outside and observe a backyard barbeque. Building a privacy fence usually took care of some problems concerning that nosy neighbor playing peek-a-boo from behind curtains.

But now, a quick Internet search can reveal piles of information about your neighbors, their kids or relatives -- or yours if you're the subject of their search.

"Social media and the Internet have made it easier than ever to find out more about people," said UND graduate Stephanie Rosenthal, who admits she used the Internet to research neighbors and roommates while in college.

"You can really find almost anything online."


Information overload

It's not just college students that are taking to the Internet to find out more about their neighbors.

People of all ages moving to a new area are usually the ones doing the online research, according to Cpl. LaVonne Nelson with the Grand Forks Police Department's investigations unit.

Sometimes snoopers may find records of crime at a home near them, but Nelson said they should contact the police department for more details.

"What you may find isn't always true," she said.

Established residents also surf the Web and call to report questionable online material, but Nelson said it's usually disgruntled family members. Still, the unit does receive questions and tips about people's behavior from their neighbors.

It might be the neighbor who keeps odd hours, has baffling habits or no one knows very well. If you decide to snoop on them, what can you find out about them?

As it turns out, quite a bit.


Searching with their name and the name of your town, you'll like get pages identifying them, and their address, ages, phone numbers, occupations, possible relatives and social media accounts registered to them.

Many of these listings should be taken with a grain of salt, Nelson said and added, "Most of those pages are trying to sell ads."

Social media

Of any of the pages found through a search, social media accounts often hold the most personal information.

Lax privacy settings on sites such as Facebook and Twitter allow neighbors -- and strangers -- to view others daily doings whether it's posting pictures of vacations, dramatic status updates or a constant stream of game requests.

Facebook was Rosenthal's method of choice for tracking down information about the people with whom she shared a building.

"After requesting their friendship, I searched through every picture and every bit of information, deducting every possible conclusion I could and making sure that I was going to be living with someone who was at least bearable" she said.

If you don't want your neighbors watching your life through social media, be sure you're checking your privacy settings often, Nelson said. Sometimes the settings may reset if someone switches to a mobile device or logs into a site from a WiFi hotspot.


Nelson recommends searching yourself to check what kind information is being posted about you. If you find incorrect information, she said you should contact the site and have the information removed.

Public records

If you want to snoop beyond a standard Internet search, some public agencies have online databases that cost nothing to browse.

With a minimal amount of digging, someone can find out how much you paid in property taxes last year, the number of rooms in your home and the number of speeding tickets you have.

Like other North Dakota counties, Grand Forks County has website that allows users to search property information by address, owner's name or property number.

While information found here -- property tax payments and home values -- may just be fuel for neighborhood gossip, other public information sites may reveal criminal histories.

North Dakota's public court record website gives users the means of tracking down someone's criminal and traffic offenses and any civil cases in which they were named as a plaintiff or defendant.

If you do see something suspicious, whether it's on the Web or in your neighbor's backyard, Nelson said you should report it to authorities.


"A lot of times people don't call us because they don't want to bother us," she said. "If you're asking yourself if you should call the police, you should probably call. We'll decide if it's worth a report."

Call Jewett at (701) 780-1108; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1108; or send email to bjewett@gfherald.com .

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