British Muslims booking trips to Mecca this October to celebrate Hajj are being warned about the threat of fraudsters trying to con them with bogus travel packages.
As a result, Hampshire Constabulary is supporting the national Hajj fraud prevention campaign this year.
Officers will be focusing on local community engagement and speaking to Muslim community leaders to highlight this problem so that people are aware and better protected from fraudsters, as they search for the best deals to take them to Saudi Arabia for what for many will be a once in a lifetime trip.
Each year up to 25,000 British Muslims travel for Hajj, spending around £125million on their pilgrimages, estimated to be between, 1st – 6th October this year.
Speaking about Hajj fraud, Detective Inspector Sue Orr, said: “Whilst the majority of Hajj tour operators deliver a first-rate service, there are those who seek to ruin the reputation of legitimate operators by exploiting and defrauding British Muslim pilgrims of their life savings.”
“Muslims shopping around for deals often will search online and find very attractive packages – flights, accommodation visas – which appear to offer good value for money, with large reductions, which sadly in some cases end up being too good to be true.”
“Unfortunately, a significant number who have paid for tour packages have arrived in Saudi Arabia to discover their accommodation is either very low quality or does not even exist, while others have found their whole trip is a scam set up by illegal travel operators that have disappeared with their money.”
Last year, around 200 people reported falling victim to some form of Hajj fraud to Action Fraud and Trading Standards. However, the true scale of this criminality is believed to be much greater, with many people feeling too ashamed to report to authorities what has happened to them.
DI Sue Orr adds: “If you are a victim of Hajj fraud or know someone who is, please don’t suffer in silence or feel embarrassed about coming forward, it’s very important to report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or through the website www.actionfraud.police.uk and we will investigate.”
“It’s only by those reporting Hajj fraud to us, that will we know the true scale and nature of the threat to be able to effectively target the fraudsters who are causing most harm to the Muslim community.”
The best way for British Muslims to protect themselves and their loved ones from Hajj fraudsters is to take heed of the following advice:
- Do your research – don’t book without carrying out some basic checks on your travel agency/tour operator. Go online to see if other people have commented on their services and check the company is accredited by the Ministry of Hajj and is a member of the Association of British Travel Agents (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. If they turn out to be fraudulent, it will be virtually impossible to get your money back.