Children as young as five years old are being targeted for grooming on Instagram where attempts have more than tripled, the NPCC has warned.
More than 5,100 online grooming crimes were recorded by police in just 18 months after a new offence of sexual communication with a child came into force, figures show.
In cases where officers recorded how victims were contacted, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram were used 70 per cent of the time, according to the data obtained by the NSPCC, with Instagram accounting for 33 per cent.
The charity’s chief executive, Peter Wanless, accused social media firms of “10 years of failed self-regulation”.
“These figures are overwhelming evidence that keeping children safe cannot be left to social networks,” he said.
He added: “It is hugely concerning to see the sharp spike in grooming offences on Instagram, and it is vital that the platform designs basic protection more carefully into the service it offers young people.”
Facebook was the second most common platform chosen by groomers, used in 23 per cent of offices, followed by Snapchat which was the platform used in 14 per cent of crimes.
The data runs from April 2017, when the law was changed, and September 2018 and was obtained through freedom of information requests to 39 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales.
In most instances, police forces did not record which particular website or app was used to groom the victim. But where they did, a steep increase in the use of Instagram was observed.
In the first six months since the law came into force, from April to September 2017, there were 126 recorded instances of Instagram being used to sexually groom a child.
Just one year later during the same time period, that number rose to 428, a 240-per-cent increase.
According to the NSPCC data, the most common target of online groomers were girls aged 12 to 15.
One in five victims, however, were aged under 11. Children as young as five were recorded as victims in some instances.
The government is due to publish a white paper on internet safety before the end of winter and Mr Wanless said it was vital it included tough new regulation.