More than €12 million was transferred illegally through so-called "money mule" accounts in the first six months of the year.

Compared to the same period last year, the quantity of bank accounts linked to the criminal practice here almost doubled between January and June to 3,000, the latest data from Banking and Payments Federation Ireland (BPFI) FraudSMART campaign shows.

Around €4,000 was the average sum that moved through the accounts.

The bulk of the accounts used belonged to young adults, aged 18-24.

However, some were as young as 15.

A money mule is a person who transfers illegally obtained money between different payment accounts on behalf of others.

"With our latest figures showing a sharp increase in the numbers of money mule accounts in operation, we are appealing to all consumers to be on high alert to the dangers of this crime," said Niamh Davenport, Head of Financial Crime at BPFI.

"Those most susceptible to being targeted are often financially vulnerable groups including students, those who are unemployed and people in economic hardship."

"And as the cost of living crisis deepens over the coming winter months we are particularly concerned that criminals engaging in money mule recruitment will seek to capitalise on this."

Gardaí and FraudSMART said all consumers should be alert to the dangers of being recruited as a money mule.

Those found guilty of the practice face the prospect of a prison sentence and a criminal record.

They will have their bank account closed and will have difficulty obtaining access to basic financial services.

FraudSMART has offered advice to people at risk of being used as money mules which includes being cautious of unsolicited emails or approaches promising opportunities to make easy money particularly on social media.

Bank accounts should never be given to anyone unless you know and trust them.

People should also thoroughly research any work from home opportunities and not get involved unless they are sure the business is legitimate.

"While on the surface this may seem like a harmless crime to those who get involved, what the money mules often don't realise is that behind the façade of the quick cash schemes are organised criminal gangs who use the money mule's bank account to launder money they’ve stolen often from innocent victims they’ve scammed," said Ms Davenport.

"That is why the consequences for money muling are so serious," she added.

Gardaí have confirmed that over 830 money mules have been identified in Ireland in the past number of years. The Garda National Economic Crime Bureau has estimated that there are at least 4,000 money mules linked to their investigations who have used Irish addresses, the majority of which are young people across Ireland.

Anyone who thinks they are being approached to become a money mule are advised to refuse to provide their bank details and to contact gardaí.

Gardaí say that if a bank account has been compromised, then the account holder should contact their bank and gardaí.