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Nuisance teens tapping onto free Wi-Fi connections in North Main Street neighborhood

By Shavonne Walker

shavonne.walker@salisburypost.com

Sue McHugh has an interesting problem in her North Main Street neighborhood that she brought to the attention of Salisbury Police. It doesn’t involve drugs, illegal activity or a feud with neighbors.

In fact, McHugh says, it’s not a crime, but it is a nuisance. There have been groups of teens sitting in her yard using an unprotected Wi-Fi source.

“I don’t think using free Wi-Fi is a crime, but loitering in my yard is inappropriate,” she said.

McHugh is quick to point out that it’s not her wireless Internet connection that has drawn the teens to her home.

As recently as this week, McHugh saw a teen outside in her yard around 9 p.m. She first checked to see what Wi-Fi source was available and went outside to ask the teen what he was doing.

He said “I’m using Wi-Fi,” she said.

She asked the teen what source he was using and he told her.

It’s not the first time she’s arrived home to someone in her yard using the unprotected Internet source.  She said she’s had to yell at the teens to move so she can get into her driveway.

It’s been a few weeks now that the incidents have occurred, McHugh said.

She called police, mostly because the neighborhood has experienced vandalism following a fire at a home in the area. McHugh said from a safety standpoint she doesn’t want people knowing her comings and goings.

She said there have been one to two teens at a time in her yard and a neighbor’s yard.

Contrary to what others have said that maybe the teens are doing homework, McHugh said that may not be the most accurate theories. She said she’s caught some teens in her yard late at night listening to music. They’ve been in her yard at 4 p.m., 9 p.m. and even midnight.

She believes the teens live in the neighborhood and has seen some of them leave her yard and enter a home nearby.

• • •

Detective Brent Hall with the Salisbury Police Department confirmed that it’s not illegal to access an open Wi-Fi source. Hall investigates computer crimes and said there’s a chance someone could access files on other computers connected to a Wi-Fi network, but only if those files are set to be shared on the network.

Hall said the big concern people should have about not securing their Wi-Fi network with a password, called a “key,” is that it opens the door to someone else using the network to commit crimes on the Internet — such as financial fraud or illegal downloads. If the criminal activity were traced, Hall said, it would come back to the IP address for the wireless router.

Hall said it’s not safe to have a Wi-Fi network that is not secured with a password.

There are Wi-Fi hotspots around Salisbury and Rowan County that people can use for free. All of the city’s Parks and Recreation facilities have Wi-Fi, and so do all of the branches of the Rowan Public Library. The Spencer Library has W-Fi, too. Places like McDonald’s and Starbucks offer free Wi-Fi for customers.

• • •

In an effort to let other neighbors know about what’s been happening, McHugh posted on a private social network for neighbors called Nextdoor. The site is free to sign onto and users can let their neighbors know about crimes there, organize Neighborhood Watch programs and even find a trustworthy babysitter.

Several neighborhoods in Salisbury are signed onto the site, including the City Park neighborhood, not far from North Main Street, and the Fulton Heights area, closer to South Main Street.

“It’s very secure. It does let us talk to one another. You can post urgent messages. You have the option to talk to your neighborhood or the adjacent neighborhood,” she said of Nextdoor.

McHugh used it to issue a letter to her neighbors and others who live in the area. She included the letter under the crime and safety category so that people would be aware of what’s been going on, she said.

Wednesday morning, McHugh took her concerns to a police-hosted community meeting. During the meeting she said there was discussion that perhaps could involve the school system. The suggestion was to teach the teens to beware of where they use the school-issued laptops and what’s appropriate.

It’s not clear if the teens who were in McHugh’s yard were actually using school-issued laptops.

Salisbury Police Capt. Shelia Lingle said the department is aware of the issue. She also said they’ve not been able to catch up to any of the teens because when the owners have asked them to leave, the teens leave.

The majority of the kids are between middle school and high school age, Lingle said.

The police department just asks that people in the North Main Street neighborhood be aware that this is happening. It hasn’t been reported occurring in other neighborhoods.

“No one has reported it. But now since Sue put it out there it has caused our folks to be aware of it,” said Doug Robinson.

Robinson said he saw the posting on Nextdoor and brought it to the attention of folks in his City Park neighborhood.

His concern has been if the teens are gaining access to unprotected Wi-Fi, what other unprotected information could they be gaining access to, Robinson said.

He said he constantly monitors the crime blotter and his neighborhood has experienced a different kind of problem — break-ins.

Robinson said police have encouraged neighborhoods to use the online Nextdoor program as a tool so neighborhoods can stay connected.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.

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