Social media scams

Online money management guide

Together with Barclays Digital Eagles, we have created this guide where you’ll learn more about how social media can influence young people’s spending habits and how to equip them with the skills to recognise social media scams.

You’ll also get guidance on how to help them have a better understanding of how to manage their money online and make more informed decisions.

What’s on the page

How can social media influence children’s spending habits?

Social media is very important to children and young people, research from Ofcom highlighting that over three-quarters of 8-11 and 12-15-year-olds say it helps them to feel closer to their friends and that using it makes them feel happy.

While social media can help children manage friendships, it may also be a place where they are exposed to content which can directly influence them. Here are a few examples of how social media can do this:

The power of influencers

We also know that influencers on the most popular sites are able to do just that – to influence and perhaps not always in the right way. A study by Wunderman Thompson in 2019 found that 25% of 6-16-year-olds said that their preference for what to buy was influenced most by influencers and bloggers on social media channels such as Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube.

Social peer pressure

Peers can also exert influence, which has always been the case – way before the internet appeared children would ask their parents for the latest school bag, pair of trainers or the most popular collectable at the time. The difference now is that the internet can seemingly put more pressure on children and young people with constant nudging and promotion of content/adverts designed to get them to make the all-important purchase.

Online scams on the rise

Scams IconCOVID-19 has seen a significant rise in the number of online scams with some reports suggesting an increase of 66% during the lockdown. This is partly due to a lot of new users being online and scammers seeing an opportunity to exploit a perceived vulnerability but nonetheless, it means that all of us are more likely to be exposed to scams at the current time.

Indeed, data from Barclays shows that 2020 was the highest year ever for online scams and apparently 54% of us who are victims are too embarrassed to even report the crime.

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How are social platforms dealing with online scams?

Social media platforms have clear policies that they enforce to protect users from scams and fraudulent or misleading content.

During the second half of 2020, TikTok rejected over 3.5 million ads that violated their advertising policies and guidelines. Equally, we have a role to play as users and need to flag content which we think might be a scam.

#Ads and influencers

In the UK, whenever an influencer or vlogger receives payment from a brand this has to be disclosed in any online content, including videos, social media post or blogs, so the nature of the relationship with the brand is clear and it is clear something is advertising prior to any engagement with it (before a user clicks on or opens anything). Back in 2019, YouTube announced stricter guidelines on how advertising could work on YouTube Kids and to ensure any ads are clearly labelled as such.

Social scams guidance from popular social networks

Learn how to spot scams on the most popular social media platforms by visiting their respective guides for further support.

 How can social media support children’s money management habits positively?

Reliance on customer reviews and recommendations

Research suggests that around 93% of customers read online reviews before buying a product. Indeed, 91% of 18-34-year-olds said that they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Given the current situation with COVID-19, there has been a rise in online shopping as well as a rise in social media use and the two are linked – social media has an impact on what we buy.

Apparently, those consumers who are influenced by social media are four times more likely to spend more money on purchases. Short-term content on sites such as Snapchat or Instagram is important as they help brands to connect with consumers and particularly young people.

Over 75% of teens said that they trust YouTubers over commercials on TV and there has been a rise in the influence that vloggers are having. The research found that 95% of US parents felt that it was important to involve their children in purchases that were for them and 67% looked at products online with their children to do this.

Influencers can be key to exposing scams

These influencers have a role to play – with huge numbers of followers, many of them children and young people, they can easily share important messages about scams or other online problems to an audience who will listen to them. Recently, influencers have been sharing stories about how they themselves have been victims of online scams and are raising awareness in order to prevent the same thing from happening to their followers.

Social platforms can be a place to find bargains

Despite the obvious scams that you can find on social media, it can also be a place to find a bargain. Following reputable companies on their social media channels can give subscribers exclusive deals or early access to sale items. Indeed some companies have been reported to respond to online requests for discounts, but this is rare although recommending others to sign up to receive marketing from a company can result in discounts for you if you made the referral.

Be very wary of the ads that suggest that by liking a page you could receive free products or entered into a prize draw – these can be ways of collecting your data.

What you need to know about social media scams

If something is advertised as ‘free’ online take time to review it more closely before sharing your details

This particularly applies to offers that we might encounter on social media. The bottom line is that if it looks too good to be true then it probably is. At a quick glance, many social media scams appear genuine for example – they might include the logo of a popular brand that catches your eye and encourages you to click.

Scams often are looking to harvest data and sell it to a third party

One scam particularly popular with children and young people are apps which claims to be able to tell you who has been looking at (or stalking) your social media profile. This can be really attractive for teenagers who are navigating the challenging experiences of relationships and wanting to be popular. However, these apps are merely looking to collect personal data by introducing malware (viruses) to devices which harvest data and are not connected to the social media platform in question. Social media sites do not share the data that would be needed to make such an app work. Often these apps will post a message to friends and those you are connected to online recommending it to them – research has shown that we are much more likely to believe a recommendation from a friend and so the problem spreads.

Scams can be sophisticated and impersonate popular brands or trends

There are many different types of scams circulating on social media and while some might be easy to spot with spelling mistakes – logos that have clearly been altered and copied – some are more sophisticated and difficult to identify. We are used to seeing advertising from brands that we follow or have shopped with on social media and scammers exploit this, so it can be difficult to tell the difference between a legitimate advert and a scam. Scammers will also seize on current issues such as the COVID-19 vaccination programme, and try to exploit anxieties and concerns around these.

Popular types of scam to look out for

Learn more about types of social scams

An image or text designed to grab our attention and encourage us to click on a link or to engage with a piece of content such as a video or short article. The content will very often be sensational (you’re not going to believe this) or present an offer (last chance, only 3 left). Clickbait will promise something which is very unlikely to materialise.

Identity theft

Many of us post a lot of information on social media. This can be taken by others and used to steal our identity. Names, addresses, dates of birth are often easy to find – even if you don’t share your DOB, posts on your birthday from family and friends saying Happy 16th will make it easy to determine. Having a private account is important, but how many of your 537 followers do you actually know?

Get rich quick

This clearly falls into the ‘if it looks too good to be true then it probably’ is category. If it was really that easy then surely everyone would be doing it?


This is phishing but on a mobile device. Usually, smishing will make use of texts (which people often seem to trust more than they would a post on social media). One of the most common will pretend to be from your bank or from a parcel delivery company telling you that they were unable to deliver that important package you’ve been waiting for and encouraging you to click here to organise collection or delivery on another date.



Someone will pretend to be someone else online in order to acquire money or personal information from an individual. These types of scams are usually targeted at those looking for a romantic relationship and this is something to be particularly aware of if using online dating sites.

Purchasing scams

These are fake adverts on auction sites or social media that use genuine images of items to persuade you to buy something. However, when you click through to the site it may look real but in fact, it’s a cloned site that is set up to take payment and personal details without the intention of sending out the purchased item.

Quizzes and competitions

Very often these quizzes will ask users to answer 3 questions with the promise of being put into a draw to win tickets or merchandise. Once the questions are answered, you are taken to a website to input personal information so you can receive the prize if you are lucky enough to win it. The same can happen with surveys – if you take part in our short survey you can have the chance to win….


Using our favourite social media platforms in order to take our personal data and information. These posts can often appear on our friends’ profiles to give them more authenticity and mean that we are more likely to be duped into clicking.


How to protect young people from social media scams

Here is a range of top tips to equip young people with the skills to recognise and report social media scams:

Talk to children about the issue using news stories to start conversations

When there is a story in the news about the latest online scam then share this with the whole family – don’t just target young people as anyone can be affected by these things and the more we talk about online issues the more natural and normal it will become!

Encourage young people to check their privacy settings on their social media accounts

Most social media platforms and popular apps are public by default, but most will allow users to control their privacy for example choosing who can see their content or who can contact them. You can find information on how to access these privacy settings here.

Once the privacy settings are in place it is still important to remind young people to think carefully before sharing too much information.

Encourage young people to be more critical about the ads they see on social media

Adverts on social media will often look genuine and encourage you to click to visit their website to make a purchase, it is especially important to make sure that you are on the site that you think you are on. If in doubt, then browse the site yourself rather than relying on a link in an advert. Also, read our Online critical thinking guide to help young people learn how to make smarter choices online.

If you are in any doubt about whether an offer or a post is genuine then visit the website yourself

Encourage young people not to click on any links in a social media post or email – type in the address, login if necessary and see whether the offer or claim is indeed genuine. Also, remind them never to make a payment to someone unless they are sure that the person they are sending money to and the payment is genuine.

Reinforce the importance of protecting personal data

Remind young people that their bank will NEVER ask them to provide online banking password details or a One-Time-Passcode if they are using two-factor authentication via an email or social media platform, nor will their bank ever ask them to transfer funds to a safe account or say their money is at risk.

Always report if something looks like a scam

If you or your children become aware of something that looks suspicious online, then it is important to act. Report it to the platform (you can find out how to do that here) and you can also report to Action Fraud. Action Fraud is the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime and is the place where we should report scams if we live in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland. In Scotland, this can be reported directly to the police.

Further resources

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