A 26-year-old woman has developed a new app designed to keep women safe when they using dating applications and websites.
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27 Oct 2014 - 7:38 PM  UPDATED 28 Oct 2014 - 1:17 PM

A 26-year-old Russian migrant behind a new dating safety app says many new migrants turn to online dating to broaden their social network but says there are few provisions in place to protect them.

Elena Zuban came up with the idea for Charm Safe – a web-based SMS system designed to send alerts if users get into danger – after she realised there weren’t many systems in place to protect women using online dating tools.

Ms Zuban moved to Australia from Russia as a teenager and started using online dating websites as a way of meeting new people and making friends.

"When we go dating online, we know very little about the person we’re about to meet in person and it’s a bit of a risk that people are willing to take on a daily basis."

"I really was a pretty shy person to be honest," she said. "And I found myself in a really awkward position that I actually had to start finding friends and partners, and it was a big huge struggle for me."

One man she met online ended up breaking into her apartment after they met up on a couple of occasions and he followed her home.

The experience made her realise how vulnerable she was.

"I was living in apartment by myself and I still didn't have really solid social networks so I figured if something happened to me, no one would ever know," she said.

Ms Zuban said it was a common experience for new migrants trying to make friends and for Australians using apps and websites for the first time after they leave home.

"A lot of kids finish school in one state and then move to another state to go to university and they face exactly the same issues," she said.

"When we go dating online, we know very little about the person we’re about to meet in person and it’s a bit of a risk that people are willing to take on a daily basis."

Have you ever felt in danger using dating websites or apps? Email sylvia.varnham@sbs.com.au

Charm Safe operates as an SMS service where users enter details about the date they are going on and "check in" throughout the night.

If users at any point feel in danger they can operate an alert which is sent to a nominated friend’s phone.

If users fail to check in, an alert is sent after a certain period of time lapses.

Charm Safe is a web-based application but Ms Zuban said a mobile application will be released next month.

A NSW Police spokesman told SBS there were a range of precautions that police advised people to take when trying online dating, including avoiding sending personal details and photographs and ensuring meetings took place in public.

He said that dating applications could be tricky to monitor and posed a risk to young people.

"Peer to peer apps are challenging for law enforcement. They evade the scrutiny of more public platforms like Facebook and Twitter," he said.

"That makes it attractive to younger people along with the notion that Facebook has been embraced by older generations, so the young hang out elsewhere."

Ms Zuban said that while Charms Safe added an additional layer of security, it shouldn’t be considered a one-stop shop.

"By no means are we trying to replace Triple Zero," she said. "The ideal situation is that it is actually aiding someone to contact Triple Zero."

NSW Police safety tips when using online dating apps and websites:

  • Do not send a picture of yourself to someone you don’t know and never place a full profile and picture anywhere on the internet; 
  • Never give out personal information including your name, home address, phone number, private email address, details of where you work or recreational activities; 
  • Do not activate your webcam to anyone you don’t know personally; 
  • Use dating, chat room or other meeting sites that have established vetting protocols to verify its members; 
  • Never arrange a face-to-face meeting with someone you have only chatted with on the internet. If you do decide to meet a person, always take a friend and ensure the meeting is in a public place; 
  • Consider disabling the GPS function on application settings as this lets people know where you are located; 
  • Never give out your passwords or financial details; and, 
  • If you feel uncomfortable, unsafe or in danger then discontinue the meeting, contact police or in an emergency situation call Triple Zero (000).