British Muslims Fall Victim To Hajj Fraud
British Muslims have been warned of a rise in bogus travel agents ripping off devotees making the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.
Thousands of pilgrims who have booked to fly to Saudi Arabia this weekend are expected to find themselves with nowhere to stay and others will not even get the airline tickets they have paid for, thanks to increasing levels of fraud surrounding the Hajj.
Every able-bodied Muslim is expected to undertake the pilgrimage to Mecca – the holiest meeting place in the Islamic religion – at least once in their lifetime and many save for years to be able to afford it.
Most of the 25,000 Britons expected to travel this year will have booked through small, legitimate travel agents, but as it is largely a cash business, the transaction lends itself to fraud, with victims losing up to £20,000 at a time.
Detective Chief Superintendent Steve Head, from City of London police, said: “People are doing this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, they are going on the pilgrimage to Mecca, they are building themselves up, saving, saving possibly for a whole lifetime and then when it comes right down to it that is being taken away from them and that money is being stolen.”
Asif Sadiq lost £9,000 buying a timeshare apartment in Mecca so his family could make the holy journey, however the property never existed.
Many Muslims save for years to make the trip to Mecca
Mr Sadiq said: “Now for me, every single time I think of Hajj I think of my money being lost, it shouldn’t be that way, it should be a memorable experience not a bad experience.”
One conman, Mohammed Ahmed, was jailed for six years after stealing £500,000 from pilgrims who had booked flights and hotels through him.
Last year 600 people reported being victims of Hajj fraud, but a Muslim monitoring group estimates the true figure is probably ten times that.
Dr Shuja Shafi from the Muslim Council of Britain, encouraged pilgrims who have fallen victim to fraud to report the crime to police.
He said: “I don’t see any reason for withholding information that is so important because one is trying to prevent future events as well and we must make sure that people don’t get away with organised fraud.”