The fourth national campaign – delivered with the support of the British Council of Hajjis, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) – is being run as part of the ongoing efforts to protect Muslims who will be booking trips to Mecca over the coming months to perform Hajj in the Autumn.
Between April 1 2015 and March 31 2016 there were 49 reports of Hajj fraud (average loss of £2,651) made to Action Fraud, marking a 33% drop on the previous year’s reporting figures. Hotspots for recorded offending were London, Birmingham, Manchester and Blackburn.
However, law enforcement and figures within the Muslim community remain convinced 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.
To try and break down remaining barriers 16 police forces will be engaging with their local Muslim communities through meetings and via their own social and digital media channels.
City of London Police Commander Chris Greany, who is the Police National Coordinator for Economic Crime, said: “Hajj fraud continues to destroy the dreams people have of making a once in a lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca. 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.
“The key to staying safe and keeping the criminals at bay is to conduct your own research into the travel company you are thinking of using. Make sure it is really a member of ABTA and is ATOL protected and is not just using false logos. You should also get everything in writing and, when you have made a decision, pay for your trip by credit card.”
The best ways to protect yourself and loved ones from Hajj fraudsters is to:
- Do your research – don’t book without carrying out some basic check on your travel agency/tour operator. Go online to see if other people have commented on their services and check the company is a member of ABTA.
- If you are booking a flight-based package make sure your travel company is ATOL (Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing) protected by the Civil Aviation Authority.
- Get everything in writing and make sure your flight details, accommodation and Hajj visa are valid.
- Do not pay the travel company by cash or by direct bank transfer into an individual’s account as if they turn out to be fraudulent it will be virtually impossible to get your money back.
Earlier this month the City of London Police, the CAA and Birmingham Trading Standards visited a string of travel agents in the Birmingham area suspected of selling unlicensed package tours to Mecca.
Owners of the travel agents were warned about advertising themselves as being ATOL licensed when background checks revealed this may not be the case.