Police are joining forces with the Muslim community to stop the fraudsters who steal hundreds of thousands of pounds from pilgrims travelling to Mecca.
The criminals pose as legitimate travel operators, often offering discounts of up to 50 per cent on the normal price, but shortly before the departure the tour operator closes leaving the victim with no tour and no refund.
Last year more than 600 Muslims reported falling victim to Hajj fraud, some losing up to £20,000 and being left to sleep on the streets of Mecca.
And with the Association of British Hujjaj estimating only 10 per cent of Hajj fraud is reported, the true extent of the crime is yet to be uncovered, leaving fraudsters free to operate undetected.
As this year’s Hajj approaches (Nov 14-17), the City of London Police, supported by the Muslim community and PROFIT (Prevention of Fraud in Travel), is launching a campaign to counter this threat.
Fraud prevention advice is being circulated through Muslim groups, police forces, travel bodies, local authorities, trading standards and the media, while victims of Hajj fraud are being urged to report this crime to police.
The new National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) can use this information to quickly pinpoint where fraudsters are operating, and help police bring them to justice.
There are a number of things you can to avoid falling victim to Hajj fraud:
- Make sure your travel agent/tour operator is ATOL (Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing) protected
- Check that your travel agent/tour operator is accredited by the Saudi Embassy
- Check exactly what you are paying for
- Get everything in writing
Police Constable Asif Sadiq is the Chairman of the Muslim Consultative Committee, and one of the many people who has been conned by Hajj fraudsters.
While attending a Muslim event he was sold a week slot in a timeshare apartment in newly built hotels in Saudi Arabia. But a year later, after receiving the title deeds and contract, the company sent an email saying the scheme had been cancelled. When he visited the hotel close to Mecca 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 Director of the NFIB, Det Supt Tony Crampton said:
“Hajj fraud is a particularly cruel crime, robbing people of the means to make what could have been their once in a life-time trip to Mecca.
“The fraudsters thrive on the Muslim community and the police not knowing where they are and what they are doing. But by working together we can stop the criminals who cause so much misery and help protect those planning to make their own pilgrimage in 2011.”
The Deputy Secretary General of the Muslim Council for Britain, Dr Shuja Shafi, said:
“The Muslim Council for Britain (MCB) 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.
“The prospective Hajjis are urged to remain careful and vigilant and do due diligence by checking if there tour operator is a current ATOL holder. The MCB also encourages Muslims to report any fraudulent activity to the police as soon as possible.”
For more information go to www.nfib.police.uk