Criminals are using social media to find young people to act as 'money mules', with some 1,000 money mule transactions totalling €12m moved through Irish bank accounts last year.
Some 98% of the incidents involved young people aged 18 to 24 years.
A new information campaign, Don't be a Mule, has been launched by the Banking and Payments Federation Ireland (BPFI), warning young people about the dangers.
The banking lobby says criminals recruit young people to help launder stolen or illegal money, often unwittingly.
This can often result in teenagers being threatened by the fraudsters or facing criminal charges, as money muling is money laundering and can result in up to 14 years' imprisonment for those found guilty.
BPFI's fraud awareness initiative said:
- 36% of 18- to 24-year-olds said they were likely to lodge or transfer money on behalf of someone else using their own bank account, in exchange for keeping some of the money;
- Over a quarter of 18- to 24-year-olds claimed they knew someone who was approached to act as a money mule; however, 44% of those surveyed had never heard of the specific term 'money mule';
- The parents of those who took part in the research were also surveyed, and just 18% of the parents said they discussed the issue of money mules with their children.
"Criminals are relentless in their pursuit of money mules as they seek to move stolen money, and very often present themselves online as prospective employers who can help young people make money through the use of their bank account," said Olivia Buckley, lead on the FraudSMART campaign.
Ms Buckley said that money muling is money laundering, and is a criminal offence.
"What can appear as a harmless action to a young person can have serious consequences, and that’s what we want to prevent."
She said social media has been utilised by criminals to attract teenagers, and that parents should be aware of the risks.
Ms Buckley said teenagers who are recruited as money mules can be threatened with violence or physically attacked if they do not continue to allow their account to be used.
"As well as having a criminal record, money mules who are caught face having their bank account closed and will have difficulty opening another account and accessing loans or other credit facilities in the future."
Ms Buckley added that parents should watch out for red flags such as their child suddenly having extra money and their child having new clothes and technology.