Action Fraud is warning people to be careful when booking their pilgrimages.
Action Fraud, the reporting service, is warning anyone looking to book an upcoming pilgrimage to the Middle East, to exercise extreme caution as fraudsters are specifically targeting Hajj trips.
Up to 25,000 British Muslims will be booking trips to Mecca over the coming months to perform Hajj in the autumn.
The total reported loss to victims was £185,967 betw,,een July and December 2018. The public are urged to check that their travel company is a member of a recognised association such as ABTA
Last year, in the period leading up to Hajj, there were 19 reports of related fraud made to Action Fraud, with total losses of £185,967. Reports show that victims can lose anything from £1000 to £50,000. 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.
Detective Sergeant Kevin Ives, from the City of London Police, said: “Hajj fraud destroys 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. 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. We advise people to carry out some research into travel companies to ensure they choose a legitimate organisation but, if they think that they’ve fallen victim to Hajj fraud, to report it to Action Fraud.”
As Hajj approaches, unfortunately some people who have paid for a tour package for themselves and their family could 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. Over the past year, the City of London Police has been 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 that victims understand how to report it to police.
Chief Executive of ABTA, Mark Tanzer, said: “Fraudsters regularly target pilgrims travelling to Saudi Arabia, by selling non-existent or sub-standard travel arrangements. ABTA members selling to the Muslim community have reported to us that fraudsters rely on the fact that many pilgrims are not aware of despicable as pilgrims not only lose thousands of pounds but they may never again be in a financial position to fulfil this religious duty 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.”
Action Fraud Recommend the following tips to help people avoid falling for hajj-related fraud include:
- Carrying out research – people shouldn’t book without carrying out some basic checks on their travel agency/tour operator. A recommendation from a friend or family member does not guarantee the authenticity of the outfit.
- Making sure the travel company used is a member of a recognised trade association such as ABTA.
- Checking that a flight-based package is ATOL protected by the Civil Aviation Authority.
- Getting written terms and conditions to detail the contract with the travel company.
- Make sure the flight details, accommodation and Hajj visa are valid
- Establishing an auditable paper trail and keeping records of financial transactions.