Tuesday, May 1, 2018
British Muslims booking trips to Mecca are being urged to take precautions to avoid falling prey to Hajj-related fraud and being scammed out of thousands of pounds.
An estimated 25,000 British Muslims will travel to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia this summer to perform Hajj, with many booking their trips in the coming months. The annual spiritual pilgrimage is a once-in-a-lifetime obligation for all Muslims who are physically and financially able to undertake the journey.
As Hajj approaches, Muslims are being warned of the “despicable” scams that have seen families duped out of tens of thousands of pounds.
There were 17 reports of Hajj-related fraud made to the UK’s fraud reporting centre, Action Fraud, in 2017, marking a 143 per cent increase on the previous year’s reporting figures.
These numbers are thought to represent just the tip of the iceberg, with many victims feeling too embarrassed, ashamed or frightened to report what has happened to them. The Council of British Hajjis estimates that the proportion of Hajj fraud victims notifying Action Fraud of the crime could be as low as three per cent.
Hotspots for offending were London, the West Midlands and Manchester, according to Action Fraud, which has revealed victims were conned out of amounts ranging from £1,000 to £33,000 between 2013 and 2017.
Hajj-related crimes reported in that period had a total value £988,743, Action Fraud said.
“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,” said Detective Sergeant Kevin Ives, of City of London Police.
“Hajj fraud continues to destroy the dreams people have of making a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca,” he added.
Rashid Mogradia, CEO of the Council of British Hajjis, described Hajj fraud as “despicable”.
Mr Mogradia said: “We want to see all pilgrims complete their pilgrimage safely.
“Reporting all fraud and scams is hugely important in ensuring that future pilgrims do not have their trip of a lifetime destroyed by the criminals.”
How can I avoid falling victim to Hajj fraud? Don’t book without carrying out some basic checks on your travel agency/tour operator. A recommendation from a friend or family member does not guarantee the authenticity of the outfit. Make sure your travel company is a member of a recognised trade organisation such as the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA). You can check if the travel company is an ABTA member here. If you are booking a flight-based package, make sure your travel company is ATOL protected by the Civil Aviation Authority. An Air Travel Organisers Licence (ATOL) protects you from losing your money or being stranded abroad. Get everything in writing. Always get written terms and conditions as this details your contract with the travel company. Make sure your flight details, accommodation and Hajj visa are valid. Establish an auditable paper trail and keep records of financial transactions. If you have been a victim of Hajj fraud, report it to Action Fraud online or by calling 0300 123 2040.