British Muslims booking trips to Mecca have been warned to beware of an increase of Hajj-related fraud.
Action Fraud - the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime - are working to raise awareness of criminals targeting the 25,000 British Muslims who may be booking trips to Mecca over the coming months to perform Hajj in the autumn.
In 2017, the average reported loss to victims was £5,869, and between 2013 and 2017 almost £1m was scammed from unsuspecting victims.
What is Hajj fraud?
Up to 25,000 British Muslims will be booking trips to Mecca over the coming months to perform Hajj in the autumn.
As Hajj approaches, a number of individuals who have paid for a tour package for themselves and their family will discover their dreams have been shattered by fraudsters.
Some could arrive in Saudi Arabia to find the accommodation they booked does not exist. Others may realise that their whole trip is in fact a scam set up by illegitimate travel operators who have disappeared with thousands of pounds of their money.
Between 1 January 2017 and 31 December 2017 there were 17 reports of Hajj related fraud made to Action Fraud, marking a 143% increase on the previous year’s reporting figures. Hotspots for recorded offending were London, the West Midlands and Manchester.
Reports show that victims can lose anything from £1000 to £33,000 and between 2013 and 2017, the crimes had a total reported value of £988,743. The average age of a Hajj fraud victim is 42.
Law enforcement and figures within the Muslim community remain convinced that 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.
Over the coming months, the City of London Police will be working with Birmingham Trading Standards to carry out visits and checks on relevant travel agents. More work will be done to help educate officers on how to help victims of Hajj fraud and to ensure correct reporting.
How can I avoid falling victim?
Do your research – don’t book without carrying out some basic checks on your travel agency/tour operator. A recommendation from a friend or family member does not guarantee the authenticity of the outfit.Make sure your travel company is a member of a recognised trade association such as ABTA. All ABTA members have to follow a code of conduct and meet rigorous entry criteria, you can check if the travel company is an ABTA Member by visiting https://abta.com/find-a-member. If you are booking a flight-based package, make sure your travel company is ATOL protected by the Civil Aviation Authority.Get everything in writing – Always get written terms and conditions as this details your contract with the travel company, Make sure your flight details, accommodation and Hajj visa are valid, Establish an auditable paper trail and keep records of financial transactions.Every Report Matters – If you have been a victim of Hajj fraud, report it to Action Fraud online or by calling 0300 123 2040.
The City of London Police website contains the Hajj fraud video, which includes the account of a victim, and a Hajj fraud leaflet translated into seven languages.
Detective Sergeant Kevin Ives, from the City of London Police, said: “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.
“Hajj fraud continues to destroy the dreams people have of making a once in a lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca, which is why, together with our industry partners, we are raising awareness of this crime.
“Be sure to conduct your own research into the travel company you are thinking of using and make sure it is really a member of ABTA by checking online and is ATOL protected and is not just using false logos. You should also get everything in writing and, if you think you have become a victim, report it to Action Fraud.”
CEO of the Council of British Hajjis, Rashid Mogradia, said: “The City of London Police have supported us in trying to combat this despicable fraud. We want to see all Pilgrims complete their pilgrimage safely reporting all fraud and scams is hugely important in ensuring that future pilgrims do have their trip of a lifetime destroyed by the criminals.”
Head of Trading Standards at Birmingham City Council, Sajeela Naseer, said: “In prosecuting rogue travel agents for Hajj travel fraud over many years, we have learnt that pilgrims are often unaware of their legal rights or may try to resolve the issues themselves rather than approach the authorities.
“Fraud is a criminal act and we would like the Muslim community to feel confident in reporting their concerns to either trading standards or the police knowing that we understand their problems and that we will act on the information they give us.”
Chief Executive of ABTA, Mark Tanzer, said: “Every year fraudsters target pilgrims travelling to Saudi Arabia, as very large sums of money are at stake. ABTA members selling to the Muslim community have reported to us that fraudsters rely on the fact that some pilgrims may not be aware of the strict regulations governing package travel, or the benefits of booking through companies who belong to a recognised trade body, like ABTA. This kind of fraud is particularly despicable as pilgrims may never again be in position to fulfil this religious duty.”