Be alert of Hajj fraud, pilgrims warned

29th Jun 2018
Be alert of Hajj fraud, pilgrims warned

(Photo: Creative Commons)

Elham Asaad Buaras

The UK’s national fraud and cybercrime reporting centre is warning Muslims to be alert to fraudsters targeting pilgrims to Makkah out of hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The warning by Action Fraud comes in time for Hajj which is expected to see 25,000 Muslims from the UK travel to Saudi Arabia in August.

British Muslims have lost almost a million pounds to hajj-related frauds in the past five years and in 2017, the average reported loss per victim stood at a staggering £5,869.

According to a report by Action Fraud, ‘Between 1 January 2017 and 31 December 2017 there were 17 reports of Hajj-related fraud made to Action Fraud, marking a 143 per cent increase on the previous year’s reporting figures. Hotspots for recorded offending were London, the West Midlands and Manchester.’

Police believe that the official figures of victims are “just the tip of the iceberg” as many people are too embarrassed or ashamed to report the crime.

Victims have lost between £1,000 and £33,000 each, Action Fraud says. Many are duped by bogus travel agents and tour operators, who request payment by bank transfer, then vanish. Such payments are not protected by the Consumer Credit Act.

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 [Association of British Travel Agents] by checking online and is ATOL [Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing] 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.”

Chief Executive of ABTA, Mark Tanzer, said fraudsters target Muslim pilgrims “as very large sums of money are at stake” with many people using their life savings for the once-in-a-lifetime trip.

“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 the position to fulfil this religious duty,” said Tanzer.

The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau said the average victim of travel-related fraud was conned out of about £1,500. However, Abta says individual cases of haj-fraud are often five or six times this amount.

Travel arrangements that are sold in the UK with flights and accommodation must have an Atol certificate, which financially protects travellers.

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