In October millions of Muslims will celebrate Hajj, with thousands of UK citizens planning to make the once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca.
The event, which is the world’s biggest annual gathering, begins on 13 October, but many will already be planning and booking their own trips. Unfortunately, there will also be fraudsters looking to take advantage of Hajj and exploit its unique attractions. Last year there were 44 reports of Hajj fraud made to police, but the true scale of this criminality is thought to be much greater.
How Hajj fraud happens
Throughout the booking period a number of tour operators will appear online offering packages to Mecca, often advertising large reductions. These packages usually include flights, accommodation and visas. Individuals will be asked to pay in cash prior to their trip, expecting to receive their tickets and travel documents nearer to the departure date.
However, by the time October arrives, there will unfortunately be some people who have not received their tickets and cannot track down the tour operator who supposedly booked their trip.
To counter this criminality over the next few months the City of London Police will be working with the Muslim community and UK law enforcement to raise awareness of Hajj fraud and the dangers of booking through an illegitimate tour operator. The focus will be a week of action at the beginning of October in the parts of the country most affected by Hajj fraud.
Commander Steve Head, from the City of London Police, said:
“Hajj fraud is a devastating crime that every year is robbing Muslims of a once in life-time opportunity to make the pilgrimage to Mecca.
“The City of London Police is committed to working with the Muslim community and UK police to understand the true scale and nature of Hajj fraud, to prevent people falling victim and to help those who do, and to track down and bring to justice the fraudsters who make criminal capital by destroying another person’s dreams.”
Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, Farooq Murad said:
“Those who despicably defraud British Muslim pilgrims betray the goodwill and the deep trust placed in the majority of the law-abiding Hajj operators.
Now with new visa restrictions in place, it is imperative that pilgrims are vigilant and ensure that only reputable operators with proper license are used. We commend the work of the City of London Police to protect pilgrims and urge the community to report and cooperate to bring the fraudsters to justice.”
Rashid Mogradia, CEO from The Council of British Hajjis, said:
“This year will be a particular challenge as the quota for pilgrims worldwide including the UK has been reduced by 20%. We expect demand to exceed supply and urge the community to exercise due diligence and book directly with licensed tour operators who are approved by the Ministry of Hajj.”
How to avoid becoming a victim of Hajj fraud
Fraudsters do not discriminate against age, gender or location, so it is important to be aware of things to look out for when booking your trip.
When booking your trip take heed of the following advice:
- Ensure your tour operator is ATOL (Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing) protected
- Check if the tour company is accredited by the Saudi Embassy
- Be sure of exactly what you are paying for and the payment method
- Try and get all of the details in writing
If you are worried that you may have been the victim of a Hajj fraud it is important to not worry about feeling embarrassed and contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.
All the Hajj reports can then be analysed together by the City of London Police’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau to identify the serious and repeat offenders who can be investigated by local police forces.
Download our Hajj fraud leaflet (available in several languages)
Source: City of London Police
Link Checked 30/6/14