Cambridgeshire Police is supporting a national initiative this week to raise awareness and encourage reporting of Hajj fraud.
The 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.
Every year more than two million Muslims celebrate Hajj by making the pilgrimage to Mecca in what is the world’s biggest annual gathering of people. Within this mass of humanity are thousands of UK citizens, many of whom will have saved for years in the knowledge that, for them, this will be a once-in-a-lifetime trip.
Between April 1 2015 and March 31 2016 Action Fraud received 49 reports of Hajj fraud across the UK, with an average loss of £2,651. This represents a 33% drop on the previous year’s reporting figures.
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 barriers the force, along with 15 others, will be engaging with the local Muslim communities through meetings and via social and digital media channels.
Cyber Security Advisor Rebecca Tinsley said: “For Muslims a pilgrimage to Mecca is a key religious act that they must make at least once in their lifetime. Individuals and families will often have saved for many years to afford to make the journey to Saudi Arabia but unfortunately Hajj fraudsters are exploiting this annual event leaving many victims devastated at the loss of both their money and the opportunity to make this important trip.”
“It is important to protect yourself by researching the travel agency you are booking through and make sure they are a member of ABTA and are ATOL protected. Remember to ask for your confirmation and an itinery in writing and pay for your trip by credit card, never be tempted to make a payment by cash or bank transfer direct to an individual’s account.”
The best ways to protect yourself and loved ones from Hajj fraudsters are 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.