SHAFAQNA – Muslims are being warned about fraudsters trying to con them with bogus travel packages to Saudi Arabia.
Hundreds of people from the Muslim community have fallen victim to Hajj scams, with some losing up to £33,000, police say.
A ‘significant’ number of people who have paid for tour packages for themselves and their family have arrived in Saudi Arabia only to discover their accommodation is either very low quality or does not even exist.
Others have found their whole trip is a scam set up by illegal travel operators who then disappear with their money.
Up to 25,000 British Muslims travel for Hajj – the Islamic pilgrimage – each year. Many save for months to make the once-in-a-lifetime trip to Mecca.
In a bid to raise awareness of Hajj frauds, police have launched a campaign aimed at protecting the Muslim community.
Greater Manchester Police and Derbyshire Constabulary are both supporting a national campaign, led by the City of London police.
Detective Inspector Rob King, head of the Derbyshire Police’s economic crime unit, said many scams go unreported and encouraged Muslims to tell police about fraud so officers are better equipped to catch offenders.
He said: “Hajj related fraud is a distressing situation for victims to find themselves in. People often save up for months, even years, in order to travel to Mecca for the once-in-a-lifetime trip.
“Only a very small percentage of victims are reporting Hajj related fraud, making it almost impossible for the police to catch those responsible. It is a serious crime that continues to cause significant harm within the Muslim community.
“Please don’t suffer in silence or feel embarrassed about coming forward. It is vital that Hajj related fraud is reported as soon as possible and our aim here is to raise awareness and offer support to prevent further victims.”
Police advise that travellers always carry out checks with travel agencies and tour operators, make sure the travel company is ATOL protected, make sure flight details, accommodation and Hajj visa are valid and do not pay by cash or by direct bank transfer.