Aroostook RSVP volunteer Alma Gray of Presque Isle, center, chats with Adult Day Service participants at The Stephen M. Farnham Gathering Place in Presque Isle. Credit: Courtesy of Aroostook Agency on Aging

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Those who join a relatively new social networking app that aims to unite neighbors must divulge personal details, which has some people in Aroostook County concerned it might be a scam.

Some Presque Isle area residents have received letters, with a local return address but a California postmark, inviting them to join Nextdoor, an international app that connects people with nearby residents, businesses and services. The letters urge people to join using a provided code.

Though more well-known social sites are famous for people leveraging anonymity and even creating fraudulent profiles, Nextdoor requires members to use their real names and addresses. The company claims it is so people know who they are interacting with, but local experts say giving out details is dicey in an era when identity theft and scams run rampant.

“I signed up for the Nextdoor app because I received a letter from someone, and … it sounded like a good idea,” Presque Isle resident Andrea Thibodeau said. “I think it’s supposed to be used as a locals-only [Facebook]-type app.”

One local invitation letter bears Thibodeau’s return address, postmarked Fullerton, California. Thibodeau said she didn’t send or authorize the letter, but the app’s fine print said the company may share information about members’ use of the service with other members.

A blog from Nextdoor about mailed invitations said that members can invite people from their neighborhood map to join, and the company will mail out invitations on their behalf. “Note that invitations will never be sent on your behalf without permission,” the writers said.

“Nextdoor’s purpose is to cultivate a kinder world where everyone has a neighborhood they can rely on,” Catherine Pantino of the network’s San Francisco office said. “We believe connecting with others is a universal human need. That truth, and the reality that neighborhoods are among the most important communities in our lives, have been guiding principles for Nextdoor since the beginning.”

Nextdoor launched in the U.S. in 2011 and, according to Pantino, is in 285,000 neighborhoods here including Maine, and in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Australia and Canada.

The company requires names and addresses to ensure members are connected with real people in their vicinity, Pantino said. Its community guidelines are, briefly: be respectful to your neighbors; do not discriminate; discuss important topics in the right way; promote local commerce the right way; use your true identity; and do not engage in harmful activity.

Along with an advisory board, the app has a Kindness Reminder which automatically flags offensive or hurtful comments and has reduced rude remarks by 30 percent, Pantino said.

Presque Isle Police Officer Ricky Pelletier said he is not familiar with the app and so far there hasn’t been anything reported about it. He said now, where there are so many ways people can share and distribute personal details, it can be difficult to decide whether something is a good option or not.

“Personally, I wouldn’t be giving out my personal information unless you’re confident that it’s a legitimate thing,” he said.

Kimberly James, Medicare education coordinator at the Aroostook Agency on Aging, said she hasn’t heard about the app yet, or from any seniors asking about it. The premise is great as another knowledge resource, she said, though most people seem to prefer feeling connected by phone or in person.

“But if this app can provide assistance and resources with just the click of a button, this could be really beneficial for some,” James said.

But people should be cautious before sharing personal information with anyone.  

“Look out for the two P’s, ‘problem or prize,’” James said. “This is usually a sign they want to collect personal information for you to ‘collect or fix’ an issue.”

Presque Isle resident Thibodeau said she hasn’t really used the app all that much, since it seems redundant to other social media.

“I’ve introduced myself there and sometimes go see who else is also saying hello, but it doesn’t seem like it’s being used for much other than that currently.”