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Collective Sleuthing, Neighborhood Style

Community listservs are a fabulous window onto neighborhood disputes, a nifty way to publicize a yard sale or strike back at a lousy contractor--and they let people band together to find facts in an effective and quick manner.

Check out what the readers of the Tenleytown community bulletin board in Northwest D.C. managed to do in just a few hours the other day after one of their number discovered that a classic Internet bank scam was operating via a website named for the neighborhood of American University Park:

someone is sending scam e-mails that indicate that there is a bank scam operating via the aupark.org website:

An hour and a half later, neighborhood cybersleuths were coming up with answers:

aupark.org is owned by a local lawyer. I found his name by going to Network Solutions web-site and running a whois on aupark.org. Probably what is going on is the spammer is either spoofing addresses
or has a robot that has been able to exploit the aupark.org web server.

Minutes later, more details came pouring out:

There are 16 domains which are listed by Domain Tools as being hosted on the same IP address that Fred noted: aupark.com, aupark.org, cybersquattinglaws.info, domaindisputes.info, domainnamecounsel.com, eloquence.info, ibusinesslaw.info, ibusinesslawyers.com, ilitigator.com, ilitigators.com, leah.info, predictably.com, tenleytown.com, tenleytown.info, trademarklaws.info, werenotyourgutter.com

And just three hours after that, the local lawyer who appeared to be the cause of the phishing scam was online himself, explaining that he was actually the victim--indeed, his account had been hacked. He apologized for any inconvenience and offered the fascinating possibility that "a local person with an agenda hacked the site."

AUPark.org is owned by a local lawyer that is a member of this group, in fact -- me. Apologies to anybody who received the scam e-mails. My account was hacked. I've removed what I believe are all the trojan files from the server and updated the application where the rogue files were placed. I've also asked my web host to help me figure out what vulnerability was exploited. The website addresses a contentious issue in the AU Park / Tenleytown area, and the fact that so many local individuals received the scam e-mails suggests that a local person with an agenda hacked the site, which is sad indeed. None of this group members' e-mail addresses would be on the server, or, indeed, on my computer at home, as I read posts on the web. Please do not hesitate to contact me if anything like this happens again. -- Jon

Pretty cool--In a single afternoon, someone put out word of the mystery, several neighbors jumped in with gratis research, and the apparent culprit came forward and made it clear that he was merely the victim of an Internet scam.

And, as it turns out, aupark.org is a window onto another little neighborhood dispute that happens to be one of the more interesting ones in the region--whether a major east-west collector street should be blocked off to make its residents happy and reduce traffic. It's a fascinating look at how the barricading of a single intersection can set off ripples of congestion (and anger) for many blocks around.

By Marc Fisher |  May 31, 2006; 7:33 AM ET
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This reminds me of our Cleveland Park listserv (a Yahoo group). Lost pets are reunited with their people, neighborhood controversies are aired and arbitrated, recommendations for various service providers are provided, debated, etc., and on and on and on. In fact, that reminds me - I have to get my daily fix of the Cleveland Park listserv right now!

Posted by: CPGrrl | May 31, 2006 10:18 AM

Ahhhh, the politics of traffic. The dispute, to which Marc Fisher is referring, has been highly contentious. Those who live on a particular street (Fessenden) wanted a barrier to prevent drivers from being able to cross, or make a left turn on, River Road. They argued this was to make an unsafe intersection much safer, though they also knew it would limit traffic on their road, which is a designated collector street.

So, without soliciting community input, DDOT put up a temporary barrier, and sure enough, the surrounding, formerly quiet, local (non-collector) roads have been blasted with run-off traffic ever since.

Parents have been up in arms because our children play up and down these blocks, and the formerly safe streets to which we moved had been utterly transformed into much less safe, virtual collector streets overnight.

The argument of the anti-barrier folks was that many less drastic solutions (e.g., traffic light, traffic circle) would address the safe intersection issue at River and Fessenden, without unfairly creating traffic problems for the surrounding neighborhood (an argument with which DDOT has concurred).

Needless to say, where you live is how you stand, with both sides claiming safety, and a majority of residents, on their side. The entire matter was resolved in a one-issue, ANC commissioner special election, which had an unpredented turnout (with many voting in an ANC race for the first and last time). One candidate ran against and one ran for the barrier, and it was known they essentially agreed on all other issues (e.g., both were strongly anti-development). Everyone in the nighborhood understood that this election was simply a referendum on the barrier, and all the listservs and door-to-door campaigning ensured everyone knew about it.(For example, the barrier issue was the only reason why I and my neighbors went out to vote on that night of torrential downpours.)

By a landslide, the neighborhood showed it was strongly against the barrier, and the new, anti-barrier ANC commissioner had a clear mandate to work with DDOT on this point. Democracy in action.

Now, if we could only have that knid of input on how our schools are run.

Posted by: AU Park resident | May 31, 2006 12:49 PM

Are there similarly effective listserv groups in more blue-collar, less affluent neighborhoods? To me, that would be even more impressive, since such residents normally don't have those backgrounds.

Posted by: Vincent | May 31, 2006 2:58 PM

AU Park Resident,

Thanks for laying this out. That barrier has always baffled me, adding to the frustrations of driving that stretch of River Road. It works back from the light at Western and River Road, where River is inexplicably narrowed to one lane by parked cars. Someone must have powerful juju to keep those parking spaces legal. The light the block before is always backed up causing us "in the know" types to divert down the side streets. Maybe the new ANC commissioner can take on those two parking spaces?

Posted by: Kalorama Kat | June 1, 2006 5:30 AM

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