To help travellers avoid becoming a victim of fraudsters, the City of London Police has launched a national Hajj fraud prevention campaign for British Muslims arranging their pilgrimage to Mecca.
Every year thousands of British Muslims celebrate Hajj by making the pilgrimage to Mecca. Many of them will have saved for years for this once-in-a-lifetime trip. However, there will also be a significant number of Muslims who have paid for a tour package, only to discover their dreams have been shattered by fraudsters.
Some people shopping around for the best deal on a trip to Mecca, both in their local community and increasingly online, are attracted by packages – flights, accommodation, visas – which appear to offer good value for money. Some operators advertise large reductions.
Fraudsters posing as travel operators ask individuals to pay in cash or make a direct bank transfer prior to their trip, telling the victim they will receive their tickets and travel documents nearer to the departure date. For some, the tickets never arrive. Others arrive in Saudi Arabia only to discover the accommodation they booked does not exist.
Protect yourself and your loved ones from Hajj fraudsters
The City of London police has produced the following advice to help you avoid becoming a victim of fraud.
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. Go online and run a search on the travel company to see if other people have commented on their services.
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, minimising the chance of fraudulent companies joining. You can check ABTA's website to verify your travel company is a member.
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 (CAA) If the travel company closes down whilst you are in Saudi Arabia your return air ticket should still be valid but you will probably be asked to repay for your accommodation. You can claim this cost from the CAA as well as a refund of your money if you have not travelled yet. You can find out more on ATOL's website.
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.
Do not pay the travel company by cash or by direct bank transfer into an individual’s account Most legitimate companies will have facilities with a bank to accept credit or debit cards. If you do pay by bank transfer or cash and the company turns out to be fraudulent it will be virtually impossible to get your money back.
If you have been a victim of Hajj fraud
Don’t feel embarrassed about coming forward. It is very important that you report the crime to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or at www.actionfraud.police.uk All reports are reviewed by the City of London Police’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau and can be used to identify serial offenders and form the basis of police investigations by local forces. By knowing the true scale and nature of the threat, law enforcement can effectively target the fraudsters who are causing most harm to the Muslim community.
If you are having consumer related problems with your Hajj travel provider, please contact trading standards via: Citzens Advice Consumer Helpline on 03454 040506 or email@example.com
For more information on Hajj fraud visit www.cbhuk.org