What are social media scams?

Supporting online money management

Social media scams target young people in a range of ways, including through their spending habits.

Get support and guidance on protecting young people from social media scams, including what you can do to tackle scams if they happen.

A teen with a frown uses their smartphone as icons showing social media scams floats around them.

How can social media influence children’s spending habits?

Social media is very important to children and young people with 93% of 12-15-year-olds using these apps and platforms.

Research from Ofcom,* found that 67% of children report social media makes them feel happy all or most of the time. Furthermore, 66% said social media helps them feel closer to their friends.

While social media can help children manage friendships and make connections, there is also a risk of harm. They might see content or talk to people who can directly influence them.

Here are a few examples of how:

The power of influencers

Influencers on popular social media sites and apps do just that – influence their followers. Unfortunately, this isn’t always in a positive way.

Promoted posts from influencers might include items they don’t actually use. Often, these take the shape of diet supplements or teas, fitness plans and other products preying on negative self-image.

A study by Wunderman Thompson** found that 25% of 6-16-year-olds decided what to buy based on what social media influencers and bloggers promoted.

It’s important to regularly check-in with children’s interests, especially when it comes to the people they follow online. This will help you identify any potentially harmful influences.

Social media peer pressure

The same research found 28% of children relying on their friends’ opinions for what to buy. This is not new to social media as children have always wanted the latest fashion, toy or collectible to seem ‘cool’ among their peers.

However, the difference now is that the internet can seemingly put more pressure on children and young people. Social media influencers, regular notifications, constant ads and persuasive design all work together to encourage spending.

Additionally, social media scams can prey on this with targeted ads or messages that seem to come from friends.

An increase in online scams

Scams IconThe Covid-19 pandemic saw a significant rise in the number of online scams. In fact, a 2021 study found a 156% increase in cyber fraud since 2017.

This is partly due to an increase of user numbers on social media. As such, scammers see a greater opportunity to exploit vulnerable people like children and teens.

Furthermore, data from Barclays shows that 54% of online scam victims were too embarrassed to even report the crime.

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Positive impacts on children’s money management habits

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 should parents know about social media scams?

Be sure to review offers closely

Encourage your child to do their research before sharing details for offers on social media, especially if something is advertised as ‘free’. If it looks too good to be true, then it probably is.

At a quick glance, many social media scams appear genuine. For example, scammers might include the logo of a popular brand to catch users’ eyes and convincing them to click.

Help children learn to identify false information with Find the Fake.

Scams seek to collect data

Scams often look to harvest data and sell it to a third party. One such scam claims to tell you who visits your social media profile. This is particularly enticing to curious children and young people navigating the challenging experiences of relationships and popularity.

However, these offers simply collect personal data by adding malware to devices. This malware collects personal data and is not connected to the social media platform in question.

Oftentimes, these scams also message friends and followers to recommend the service to them. This is because research shows we are much more likely to believe a recommendation from a friend. So, the problem spreads.

Learn about data breaches and staying safe with advice from the National Cyber Security Centre.

Scammers might impersonate well-known brands

Research from Ofcom* found that 61% of children aged 12-17 identified a social media post as genuine because of the brand logo. While the post in question was genuine, scammers can easily use brand logos to mislead social media users. What’s more, some scams are very difficult to detect because the websites mimic the originals very well.

Some scams are easily detectable with spelling errors and slightly altered logos. However, others copy brands and platforms very well, leading to more victims.

Additionally, because we are so used to seeing ads from these brands, it could become more difficult to sort out real ones from scams.

If something appears to come from a brand:

  • visit the brand website directly to confirm deals. Discounts and sales are advertised on social media but, if genuine, will show up on the official website.
  • check that the social media profile is genuine. Most social media platforms allow companies to verify their accounts. Furthermore, any social media profile should link directly to the brand’s official website.
  • avoid clicking links from unknown accounts. Phishing can happen through emails, text and social media, so it’s important to navigate directly to the site instead of through suspicious links.

What are the popular social media scams?


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.


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.

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?

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?


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.


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.


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.


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….

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Are social media platforms aware of scams?

Social media platforms have clear policies to protect users from scams and fraudulent or misleading content. These platforms enforce these policies by banning users and rejecting such content.

In 2020, for example, TikTok rejected over 3.5 million ads that violated their advertising policies and guidelines.

While  social media platforms take action against fraud, they can only do so when users make reports. Children and young people should understand the need to report scams to protect others.

#Ads and influencers

In the UK, influencers and vloggers must disclose when they receive payment from a brand for promoting a product. This should happen on any online content, including videos, social media posts and blogs. Doing so means the nature of the relationship with the brand is clear. As such, users should question whether the promotion is genuine — that the influencer uses the product — or due to the sponsorship.

Influencers need to make this partnership clear prior to any engagement with it (before a user clicks on or opens anything). However, this does not always happen. Reporting cases where it isn’t labelled appropriately can help the platform take action.

The NCSC's CyberFirst

Screenshots from CyberFirst stories.

Teach 11-14-year-olds how to stay secure online with CyberFirst — lesson resources from the NCSC.


Social media scams guidance from popular platforms

See what the following platforms do to tackle social media scams and learn how to report them.

How can I protect my child from social media scams?

Digital literacy is a skill that develops over time. In addition to ensuring children are the appropriate age for the platform they use, the following tips can help keep them safe from social media scams.

Have conversations about social media scams

If there’s a story about a social media scam in the news, ask your child about it. Have they seen the story? What do they think? Have they ever seen something similar online? What did they do? What could they do if they see the scam online?

Treat it as a casual conversation based in curiosity during a walk or drive. Remember that people of all ages fall victim to scams, not just children and young people.

The more you talk about online issues like social media scams, the more natural and normal it becomes.

Check social media settings

Most social media platforms allow users to control their privacy. For example, they can choose who sees their content, who can contact them and what content they see in their feed.

Setting up privacy and security provides a safety net to protect children from social media scams and more. However, talking about children’s digital lives regularly as well is vital to their safety.

Visit these step-by-step guides for popular social media platforms to start talking to your child about their online safety:

Or see all social media guides here.

Encourage critical thinking

Adverts on social media often look genuine and encourage users to click on a link. As such, it is especially important to make sure it leads to the site you expect and not one that simply looks similar.

Encourage children to stop and think before clicking on ads. If in doubt, they should browse to the site themselves through a search engine or the URL.

Additionally, remind them to never send money or make purchases on unknown sites or platforms. They should talk to you about making purchases, especially when they’re unsure.

Our online critical thinking guide can help you support your child as they learn how to make positive choices online.

Reinforce the importance of protecting personal data

Remind young people that their bank will never ask them to provide personal online banking details. If someone claims to work for their bank or another official organisation, your child should get in contact with the organisation directly.

Scammers often use tactics to frighten victims into giving over personal information. As such, if your child worries something will happen, they should come to you.

Examples of these tactics include:

  • telling account owners there is fraudulent activity on their account
  • warning account owners legal action will be taken against them if they don’t act

Always report potential scams

If you or your children become aware of something that looks suspicious online, it is important to act.

Report scams on the platform and to Action Fraud. Action Fraud is the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cyber crime. If you live in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, report this way.

For those in Scotland, you can report scams and fraud directly to the police.

How to protect young people from social scams

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