Fraudsters are stealing hundreds of thousands of pounds from Muslim pilgrims travelling to Mecca, City of London police warned today.
The conmen are posing as legitimate travel agents, often offering discounts of up to 50 per cent, to target those on the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
They then close before people travel, leaving them with no trip to Saudi Arabia and no refund.
City of London police, which investigates fraud across the country, has found that 600 Muslims were victims last year.
The losses ranged from £200 to £20,000. The Association of British Hujjaj estimates only 10 per cent of Hajj fraud is reported.
Police constable Asif Sadiq, the chairman of the City police’s Muslim consultative committee, is one of those conned by Hajj fraudsters.
While attending a Muslim event he was sold a week-long slot in a timeshare apartment near Mecca. But a year later, after receiving the title deeds and contract, the company said sent an email saying the scheme had been cancelled.
When he visited the apartments close to Mecca, staff said they had no knowledge of the enterprise, leaving him with no way of getting his money back.
Pc Sadiq said: “I feel cheated out of my hard- earned savings, and as far as I am aware thousands of other people have been tricked into investing in the same bogus scheme.
“This experience means I will never be able to book a Hajj or Umrah package without being suspicious throughout the trip, ruining the whole religious experience for me for life.”
The pilgrimage is a religious duty that must be carried out at least once in a lifetime by every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do so.
Pilgrims are advised to make sure travel firms are Atol protected and accredited by the Saudi Embassy. Hajj begins on Sunday.
Shuja Shafi, the deputy secretary general of the Muslim Council for Britain, said: “The Muslim Council fully supports this important campaign by the City of London Police. We believe the majority of Hajj tour operators provide a conscientious and reliable service, but there are a few bad apples.”
Source: London Evening Standard