Police forces across the UK have linked up with the Council of British Hajjis, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) in an effort to protect Muslims from fraudsters who seek to exploit them as they prepare to make pilgrimage to Mecca for Hajj later this year.
In the last 12 months, there were 49 instances of Hajj-related fraud reported to Action Fraud, the national fraud and cybercrime reporting centre.
That figure represents a 33 per cent drop year on year, but the police and some within the Muslim community remain convinced that the reported data only represents a fraction of the actual number of victims.
The Council of British Hajjis estimates that the level of reporting for Hajj fraud is as little as three per cent. It is believed that many who fall victim to this kind of crime are too embarrassed, ashamed or frightened to make an official complaint.
Rashid Mogradia, CEO of the Council of British Hajjis, said:“Hajj preparations are now well underway, with a greater sense of unity from amongst the organisers and regulators in tackling fraudulent activities by unscrupulous individuals, claiming to serve pilgrims of the UK. Pilgrims are urged to follow the simple advice from the Police when booking a pilgrimage package. The Council of British Hajjis will once again exert its efforts in protecting British Muslims, through its awareness campaigns and its White List accreditation initiative.
“We are grateful to the Police and partner agencies that are pioneering this campaign to bring about ‘Justice and Opportunity for the Silent Pilgrim’. If you know of anyone who has been a victim of Hajj fraud, then please report this to Action Fraud so that the authorities can take action and stop others from falling victim.”
Up to 25,000 British Muslims travel for Hajj every year, with as much as £125 million spent by pilgrims annually. The police have received reports of individual victims losing as much as £33,000.
Chris Greany, police national coordinator for economic crime, said:“Hajj fraud continues to destroy the dreams people have of making a once in a lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca. Many victims will have saved for years to be able to afford to travel to Saudi Arabia and as a result will be absolutely devastated when they find out that they have in fact been conned by fraudsters.
“The key to staying safe and keeping the criminals at bay is to conduct your own research into the travel company you are thinking of using. Make sure it is really a member of ABTA and is ATOL protected and is not just using false logos. You should also get everything in writing and, when you have made a decision, pay for your trip by credit card.”
Follow these tips to stay safe:
*Do your research – don’t book without carrying out some basic check on your travel agency/tour operator. Go online to see if other people have commented on their services and check the company is a member of ABTA.
*If you are booking a flight-based package make sure your travel company is ATOL (Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing) protected by the Civil Aviation Authority.
*Get everything in writing and make sure your flight details, accommodation and Hajj visa are valid.
*Do not pay the travel company by cash or by direct bank transfer into an individual’s account as if they turn out to be fraudulent it will be virtually impossible to get your money back.