How to tackle online scams

Our expert panel shares advice on what online scams look like, how young people might be impacted and what parents can do to keep them safe on social media and elsewhere online.

A young girl holds a smartphone in one hand as if browsing while holding a credit card in the other, potentially falling victim to an online scam

Dr Elizabeth Milovidov, JD

Law Professor and Digital Parenting Expert
Expert Website

What kind of impacts do social media scams have on families?

Social media scams have become increasingly common in recent years. Often, the victims are children because they may be more vulnerable to these types of attacks due to their lack of experience and knowledge about online safety or due to the inability to use critical thinking skills efficiently.

Scammers easily target children because children may be more trusting, may be less likely to question their intentions and, unfortunately, may accept what they see at face value.

There are a wide range of social media scams from phishing attacks to more sophisticated schemes like catfishing where scammers create fake profiles and build trust with their victims before asking for money or sensitive information. Unfortunately, there are many ways in which social media can be used for scams.

One of the major impacts of social media scams on children is financial loss. Children may not have the same level of financial literacy as adults and may not understand the consequences of falling victim to a scam. They may also be more prone to sharing personal information or clicking on links that could lead to scams. This can result in the loss of money or personal information, which can have serious consequences for both the child and their family.

In addition to financial loss, social media scams can also have emotional impacts on children, which can be far more difficult to recover from than a financial impacts. Children may be more susceptible to emotional manipulation, and the betrayal and disappointment of being scammed can be difficult for them to cope with, leading to feelings of anger, sadness and even depression.

It’s important for parents and caregivers to educate children about the risks of social media scams and to teach them how to protect themselves. This includes teaching them to be cautious about providing personal information or clicking on links, using strong passwords and security measures, and being aware of the latest scams and how to avoid them.

By teaching children about online safety and providing them with the tools they need to protect themselves, parents and caregivers can help mitigate the negative impacts of social media scams on children.

What support is available for victims of social media scams?

If someone is a victim of a social media scam, they can take immediate steps to protect themselves, their account and other online accounts.

  • STOP COMMUNICATIONS: Stop all contact with the scammer and block their phone numbers, instant messages and email addresses
  • KEEP PROOF: Keep copies and/or screenshots of the scam and any communications
  • REPORT ON THE PLATFORM: File a report on the social media platform where the scam occurred
  • REPORT TO THE AUTHORITIES: File a report with the appropriate law enforcement agency, if necessary, such as Action Fraud in the UK (or the police if you’re in Scotland)
  • SEEK FINANCIAL SUPPORT: File a report with your bank or credit card company so that you can dispute any charges or request financial assistance
  • SEEK EMOTIONAL SUPPORT: Seek support from friends, family or a mental health professional. The emotional impacts of being scammed can be significant, and therapy or counseling can help process feelings and cope with the aftermath of the scam.

There may be additional support depending on the specific circumstances of the scam, the location or the platform used. You may also want to consider contacting a consumer protection agency or legal aid organizations for additional assistance.

John Carr

Online Safety Expert
Expert Website

Common themes to look out for

Part of the innocence of childhood is the trusting belief that most people in the world are good, kind and always disposed to be helpful and encouraging, particularly to young persons like themselves. They believe most businesses are honest and decent. They think this because, for the vast majority, that has been their experience hitherto.

It can therefore be very difficult to get across the idea that, in reality, there are many people and businesses in this world who are not like that at all. They are the exact opposite: mean and deliberately setting traps which can do considerable harm, not just to their own financial resources, but to those of the parents. But there is almost always a common theme.

Too good to be true

If something appears to be too good to be true, it almost certainly is.

A new iPhone for £10? I don’t think so. Fantastically low prices for stunning clothes from famous brands? Sadly no.

The businesses or people who advertise such things are not what they say they are. If they get your child’s money, they will never send anything in return, or else it will be complete junk. Meanwhile, they have also got your or your child’s name and address, along with perhaps a date of birth, a credit or debit card number and security PIN, along with possibly other information as well.

You or your child will be ripped off again or identity details will be used to establish fake IDs so they can engage in criminal behaviour which could later appear to have been done by you! They may even take out new bank loans or credit cards in your name!

Don’t ring this number

Received a text messages saying you have won a prize in a competition you don’t even remember entering? Or telling you how lucky you have been to be selected to receive a special offer? All you have to do is ring a number to claim it? Don’t. It will be a premium rate number that will make it the most expensive phone call you have ever made.

You are handsome. You are beautiful. You are talented.

Yes you are. But don’t be fooled by a stranger who asks a young person to come in for a photo shoot to create pictures they will promote to fashion houses, advertising and modelling agencies, or asks you to pay to compete or hand over personal data to join a competition or win a scholarship. Your child will waste a lot of time and money only to face heartache and rejection when nothing comes of it.

Check, double check. Then check again.

Bogus sites and scams have often been identified by others, so sometimes just doing a search will take to you to a place that will warn you or tell you the truth about what is really going on.

Will these sorts of financial scams be impacted under the Online Safety Bill?

They already are unlawful. The problem has been enforcement and that may not improve when the new Online Safety Bill becomes an Act so, unfortunately, we all need to stay on our guard, including our children and grandchildren.

Karl Hopwood

Independent online safety expert
Expert Website

Peer pressure and social media

It is clear that children and young people spend a considerable amount of time on social media platforms and from quite an early age. Ofcom research published in 2022* found that 24% of three- and four-year-olds have their own social media profiles. This rises to 60% of the eight- to eleven-year-olds. Most of the social media platforms that Ofcom found these children using require a user to be at least 13-years-old to use the platform.

Another piece of research from Ofcom** found that some parents facilitate the access to these platforms. For instance, 30% of eight- to twelve-year-olds state they set up their profile on TikTok with some help from their parents/guardians while 12% state that their parent/guardian set it up for them.

Once using these platforms, which are essentially designed for adults, children can be exposed to challenging content, including scams. Some are easy to spot – with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors — but some are becoming increasingly sophisticated and hard to identify. These scams often relate to current issues such as the energy crisis or the conflict in Ukraine.

Common scams

Some of the scams particularly affecting children and young people are around some of the games they play. Scams like these will offer amazing deals or levels of access to content that should cost money. Additionally, they will often include logos and branding aimed at convincing a user that it is genuine.

Clicking on links from such social media posts or from in-game chats will either download malware or a virus to their device (including phones which are not immune from this type of thing). They will then send your child’s personal data to a third party site and will sometimes re-share the scam with friends or contacts to give it more credence.

If it looks too good to be true, then it probably is. Children and young people (and their parents) should understand that it’s never a good idea to click on a link in a social media post or in an email. Instead, go to the website yourself; login to see if the deal or the urgent message asking you to verify your account details is genuine!


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Staying safe on social media

Social media is a great way for your kids to stay in touch with family and friends. Here are some simple things to check to ensure your children stay safe when using it.

Are your kids old enough?

Most social media accounts require users to be at least 13 years old. However, it is easy to sign-up with a fake date of birth.

Do they know who they’re talking to?

Not everyone using social media is necessarily who they say they are. Encourage your child to take a moment to check if they know the person and if the friend/link/follow is genuine.

They should also think about what they post. Once this is posted, they have very little control over how it can be used.

  • Encourage them to think about what they’re posting, and who can access it. Have you configured the privacy options (see below) so that it’s only accessible to the people they want to see it?
  • Have an idea about what their contacts say about them online.

Take time to understand the privacy settings

All social media platforms will have privacy and security settings that can ensure your child’s personal information remains inaccessible. It’s worth taking time to understand these to ensure that your child isn’t inadvertently posting updates, photos and messages to everyone.

You can use these links to find privacy setting guidance for popular social media sites: Facebook; Twitter; YouTube; Instagram; LinkedIn; Snapchat; TikTok.

Turn on 2SV

All social media platforms allow you to turn on 2-Step Verification (2SV). This means that even if someone else knows your child’s password, they won’t be able to access their account. 2SV works by prompting you to provide something in addition to the password (such as an SMS code that’s sent to your or your child’s phone).

Check that 2SV (sometimes called two-factor authentication or 2FA) is turned on for all their social media accounts. For more detail on how to use social media safely, please visit the NCSC website.