The City of London Police has this week launched a national campaign to raise awareness of the threat posed to Muslims by Hajj fraud and to encourage victims to report to Action Fraud.
Every year up to 25,000 British Muslims make the pilgrimage to Mecca for Hajj – taking place October 13 to 18 – spending around £125 million. But the hidden reality is that thousands more will fall foul of fraudsters and have their dreams of a once-in-a-lifetime trip destroyed.
Even worse is the fact that Hajj fraud is being allowed to thrive because only a very small percentage of victims are reporting to Action Fraud, making it almost impossible for local police forces to catch those responsible.
To confront this problem the City of London Police, which is the national police lead for fraud, has teamed up with the Council of British Hajjs and the Association of British Travel Agents to make a special Hajj fraud video, which includes a interview with a Midlands-based victim of Hajj fraud.
The force is also working closely with the Muslim community, local forces, trading standards and local authorities to distribute leaflets and posters – translated into Arabic, Punjabi, Bengali, Somali, Urdu, Gujarati – across the UK over the next few weeks.
Commander Steve Head, National Fraud Co-ordinator for the City of London Police said:
“Hajj fraud is a devastating crime that every year is robbing Muslims of what could be their only opportunity to make the pilgrimage to Mecca.
“This national campaign has been designed so that together with the Muslim community and local forces we can understand the true scale of Hajj fraud, prevent people falling victim and help those who already have, and track down and bring to justice the fraudsters who make criminal capital by destroying other people’s dreams.”
How Hajj fraud happens
Muslims shopping around for the best deal on a trip to Mecca, both in their local community and increasingly online, are attracted by packages – flights, accommodation, visas – which appear to offer good value for money. Some operators advertise large reductions.
Individuals are asked to pay in cash or make a direct bank transfer prior to their trip and are told they will receive their tickets and travel documents nearer to the departure date. For some they never arrive.
Mohammed, 36, from Birmingham lost £4,500 to a Hajj fraud. He felt deeply embarrassed but, importantly, reported the crime to Action Fraud:
“I was initially very careful to make sure I was only considering packages from legitimate travel companies. Unfortunately I then strayed onto websites that were offering very attractive deals, and I was persuaded to put my faith in them to deliver a great pilgrimage to Mecca.
As Hajj drew closer no tickets arrived and my agent stopped returning my calls, until I finally reached the point where I realised I had fallen victim to a horrible crime.”
How to protect yourself and your loved ones from Hajj fraud
Ø Do your research – Don’t book without carrying out some basic checks on your travel company
Ø Make sure your travel company is a member of a recognised trade body, such as ABTA
Ø 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
Ø Get everything in writing
Ø Do not pay the travel company by cash or direct bank transfer into an individual’s account
Rashid Mogradia, CEO of the Council of British Hajjis said:
“Whilst the majority of Hajj tour operators deliver an excellent service, there are those who seek to tarnish the reputation of the industry by seeking to defraud British Muslim pilgrims of their life savings. Pilgrims must ensure they book with reputable and licensed tour operators.
Victims of Hajj fraud should report to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or at www.actionfraud.police.uk
All reports are reviewed by the City of London Police’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau and can be used to identify serial offenders and form the basis of police investigations.
Further reading: http://www.cityoflondon.police.uk/news-and-appeals/campaigns-and-initiatives/hajj/Pages/default.aspx#leaflet (updated 30/6/14).