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Online grooming and child exploitation during COVID 19 lockdown

Male teenager gaming - I didn't know I was being targeted for sex. I thought we were online friends
I didn't know I was being exploited

Online grooming and child exploitation during COVID-19 lockdown

The current national restrictions mean that children and young people are likely to be spending more time online.

To help keep young people safe and protect them from offenders who might attempt to target them online, we have collected information to support both parents/carers and young people to spot the signs of online exploitation. There is also information about who to talk to and where you can get help.

Online exploitation can affect anyone, boy or girl, from any community. Please remember - it is never the child’s fault.

Remember – if you are in immediate danger you should always contact the police

What are the risks online?

You never know who you’re talking to

You don’t always know who you are talking to online. Unless you can see the person (not just a still image of them), hear them and you know them in real life, it’s difficult to be sure that the person you are messaging is really who you think they are.

Constant contact

Because social media is “always on” you can be constantly bombarded with messages. This pressure can then be used as a way to watch, coerce and control what you do. Log out – give yourself space to breathe and think. If you are worried – talk to someone you trust. There are more links to support on this page.

Sharing images

Because you don’t always know who you’re talking to you also don’t always know who you’re sending that selfie to. Sometimes a criminal will pressure you to send a nude selfie or other indecent picture or share sensitive information which they will then use to force you into sexual or criminal activity. Remember you should never do anything which makes you uncomfortable. If you aren’t sure talk to someone you trust or contact one of the support organisations listed on this page.

Sharing information

Criminals will also use any information – including pictures – you share about yourself publicly to get to know you and pretend to a friend you can trust. Once they “befriend” you, they can groom and manipulate you into sexual or criminal activity. Again you should never feel pressured into something you don’t want to do. If you are worried – talk to someone.

What can I do to help protect my child?

There are things you can do to help protect your children from online exploitation.

  • Check games content and features (Is it appropriate? Will they have online access?)
  • Remember to use privacy and parental controls
  • Turn location settings off in mobile apps
  • Make an agreement with your child about time online and stick to it.

What signs should I look out for that my child could be being exploited?

If you are a parent or carer the following might indicate that a child needs help:

  • Talking about older/new friends they’ve met online.
  • Talking about gifts/money they’ve received online
  • Becoming withdrawn and secretive
  • Having a new phone or more than one phone
  • Receiving a large number of calls or messages
  • Worried about being away from their phone

These are only some of the possible signs and ways you can help. The Children’s Society offer more information on risks, staying safe and spotting the signs.

Where can I go for more information and support?


This website is full of useful information for children and their parents and information is organised by the age of the child. They have also launched a new section to support parents during the restrictions.

They have a wealth of resources to support parents and carers in having those difficult conversations with children and young people; including videos designed for different age groups to explain the risks.

They also offer advice for parents/carers if they believe their child has send a nude selfie by text or uploaded one to a website or social media (sextortion); advice for parents/carers about children and online gaming; and advice for parents/carers about online grooming.  

Children’s Society

The Children’s Society have published advice about keeping children safe on line during lockdown.


The NSPCC has a section devoted to online safety including advice on parental controls. It covers different kinds of online channels and the risks as well as advice on how to talk to your child.

You can also contact them by telephone. There is a helpline for parents and carers: 0808 800 5000

Children and young people can contact Childline: 0800 1111 (or visit the Childline website)

Parent Info

Help and advice for families in a digital world.


CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command) is the specialist team from the NCA and where you can make reports of online exploitation.

NSPCC and O2 - Net Aware

This a hugely useful site as it lists social media networks, apps and games and gives information on the risks associated with each one as well as top tips for staying safe (including privacy settings).

Remember: if you’re worried that a child or young person is at immediate risk of harm, you should call the police


A young teenage girl looking at her phone - I didn't know that texting a naked selfie to someone would end up on the internet forever
I didn't know I was being exploited