National Hajj fraud campaign launches to tackle criminals preying on Muslims booking trips to Mecca
The City of London Police is this week teaming up with police forces across England, Wales and Scotland to raise awareness and encourage reporting of Hajj fraud.
The national campaign – delivered with the support of the British Council of Hajjis, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) – is being run as part of the ongoing efforts to protect Muslims who will be booking trips to Mecca over the coming months to perform Hajj in the Autumn.
Between April 1 2015 and March 31 2016 there were 49 reports of Hajj fraud (average loss of £2,651) made to Action Fraud, marking a 33% drop on the previous year’s reporting figures. Hotspots for recorded offending were London, Birmingham, Manchester and Blackburn.
However, law enforcement and figures within the Muslim community remain convinced these numbers represent just the tip of the iceberg, with many victims feeling too embarrassed, ashamed or frightened to report what has happened to them.
To try and break down remaining barriers 16 police forces will be engaging with their local Muslim communities through meetings and via their own social and digital media channels.
City of London Police Commander Chris Greany, who is the 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.”
The best ways to protect yourself and loved ones from Hajj fraudsters is to:
- 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.
To view the Hajj fraud video, which includes the account of a victim, or to see the Hajj fraud leaflet translated into seven languages please go to:
Mark Rayner, Head of ATOL Compliance, said:
“Any UK travel business selling air packages, which includes Hajj pilgrimages, must have ATOL protection; it’s as simple as that. ATOL is the financial protection scheme, which gives air travellers the peace of mind they won’t lose their money and will get home safely – even if the travel business they book with, goes bust.
“Sadly, we have seen cases of both high street and online travel businesses selling Hajj package deals that either don’t have the ATOL protection they should have, or are falsely claiming to have ATOL protection when they are not a registered ATOL company. This potentially leaves consumers booking with these companies at risk of being left out of pocket.
“It is really important that anyone looking to travel to Mecca this September, as part of a Hajj pilgrimage, to look beyond the price and check, then double check that the travel business has ATOL protection and ensure they receive an ATOL certificate once they pay any money towards their trip.”
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 City of London 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 City of London 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.”
John de Vial ABTA Head of Financial Protection said:
“The often very large sums of money paid out for Hajj trips, can make them a very attractive target for fraudsters and every year pilgrims lose both money and their travel arrangements. Unscrupulous individuals use the fact that pilgrims may not be aware of the strict regulations in place governing the sale of package travel arrangements in the UK.
“In many cases travel arrangements are of a much lower standard than promised or in the worst cases, they simply do not exist. All types of travel related fraud are unacceptable, but Hajj related fraud is particularly distressing as this is often a once in a lifetime event for many pilgrims and they may never again be in position to fulfil what is an important religious duty for the pilgrim.”
Earlier this month the City of London Police, the CAA and Birmingham Trading Standards visited a string of travel agents in the Birmingham area suspected of selling unlicensed package tours to Mecca.
Owners of the travel agents were warned about advertising themselves as being ATOL licensed when background checks revealed this may not be the case.
Notes to editors:
A travel agent from South London, lost £10,000 to Hajj fraudsters in 2013 when he purchased Hajj travel packages on behalf of some of his customers. He said:
“I run a travel business and pride myself on finding good deals for customers. On this occasion I had been asked by five people to find them a Hajj travel package.
“The initial deal I found fell though which meant I had to go with suppliers that I hadn’t used before. I sent them £10,000 to pay for all the bookings, which included flights, accommodation, food and visas. However none of tickets came through and I later found out that the visas hadn’t even been applied for.
“I spoke to the suppliers but they made excuses for not providing the tickets and said they would send a refund, which they never did. I have lost a significant amount of money due to these fraudsters which severely affected my business. It still makes me angry to think about this and I’m also aware that there are people around the country, who fall victim to this type of fraud and end up not being able to go to Mecca as a result, which is absolutely terrible”.