HAJJ & UMRAH FRAUD –STAY SAFE!

Steps to safeguard your pilgrimage

In recent years a growing number of people have fallen victim to Hajj fraud, with many losing thousands of pounds on planned trips to Mecca. Many victims have suffered significant financial losses, in many cases losing their life savings. Hajj fraudsters do not discriminate against age, gender or location. In the months leading up to the Muslim pilgrimage of Hajj, organised crime groups are targeting licensed travel companies to advertise fraudulent deals to Saudi Arabia in their name.

In some cases, ‘Hajj Tours’ are being sold at up to 50% of the normal price, but shortly before departure the tour operator closes, leaving people with no tour and no way of getting their money back.There are a number of things you can do to limit your chances of becoming a victim:

Make sure your travel agent/tour operator is ATOL (Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing)protected. If the travel agency closes down while you are in Saudi Arabia you are guaranteed a flight home without having to pay any extra. If the agency closes down before you are due to travel, ATOL protection allows you to claim your money back Is your travel agent/tour operator accredited by the Saudi Embassy? Don’t book without researching your travel agency/tour operator if the offer seems too good to be true, it usually is.

A recommendation from a friend or family member does not guarantee the authenticity of the outfit a fraud may be ongoing for a while before the perpetrators dissipate the assets and disappear. By researching the company you are limiting your chances of being defrauded. Check exactly what you are paying for. When paying, consider carefully your method of payment. Establishing an audit able paper trail and keeping records of financial transactions will make it more difficult for you to be defrauded.

Get everything in writing.

Always get written terms and conditions as this details your contract with the travel agent or tour operator. Make sure your flight details, accommodation and Hajj visa are valid.

For further information on approved, ATOL registered agents, you can contact ATOL (0207 453 6700) or the Ministry of Hajj.

The Head of Economic Crime at the City of London Police, Detective Chief Superintendent Steve Head, said:

“Each year Hajj fraud is destroying the dreams of an untold number of people who believe they are about to make their own pilgrimage to Mecca. The NFIB is working together with the Muslim community to shine a light on the fraudsters who continue to cause so much pain”.

“The more we know of this crime the more we can do to stop it, so I would urge anyone who has fallen victim to Hajj fraud to contact the police.”

If you have been a victim of Hajj FraudPlease don’t sufferin silence or feel embarrassed about coming forward. Asif Sadiq, who is the chairman of the Muslim Consultative Committee said:

“The Muslim community needs to ensure that all its members are aware of Hajj fraud and stress how important it is for them to support the police in any way that will help them bring these criminals to justice.”

If you think that you have been a victim of Hajj fraud, call your local police or:

City of London Police Fraud Desk 020 7601 6999 OFT Consumer Direct 08454 04 05 06 Action Fraud 0300 123 2040 For further information visit: City of London Police  

What is Hajj fraud and how can I protect myself from this?

Thousands of British Muslims make the pilgrimage to Mecca for Hajj in October, which involves millions of pounds being spent on travel and accommodation. Unfortunately for some Muslims, this is shattered by fraudsters who trick them into thinking they have paid for a tour package for themselves and their families. They offer fraudulent flights, accommodation and visas -with some Muslims arriving in Saudi Arabia to find that their trip does not exist and is in fact a scam.Below are a few tips to help protect yourself and your family against Hajj Fraud:

  • Make sure you research the companies you are using; don’t book anything without carrying some basic checks on the travel company.
  • Check whether the travel company you want to use is a member of a recognized body (e.g. ABTA ).
  • If you are booking flights, make sure that the company is ATOL (Air Travel Organizers’ Licensing) protected by the Civil Aviation Authority.
  • Make sure you get all bookings confirmed in writing.
  • DO NOT pay by cash or direct bank transfer into an individual’s account. This makes it extremely difficult to recover your money.
If you are the victim of Hajj Fraud, you should report this to Action Fraud who specialize in dealing with fraud and financially motivated internet crime. You can find their link, and other useful websites, in the related information section.

HAJJ FRAUD

Every year more than two million Muslims celebrate Hajj by making the pilgrimage to Mecca. 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 is aonce-in-a-lifetime trip.Unfortunately as Hajj approaches there will also be a significant number of Muslims who have paid for a tour package for themselves and their family, only for their dreams to be shattered by fraudsters. Some will arrive in Saudi Arabia to discover the accommodation they booked does not exist. Others will find that their whole trip is actually a scam set up by illegitimate travel operators, who have now disappeared with thousands of pounds of their money.

How Hajj fraud happens

Every pilgrim wants the best possible Hajj experience. But if you’re working within a budget, it’s also natural to want to find the best possible deal. Many travelers are understandably attracted to packages which appear to offer good value for money on flights, accommodation and visas. Some operators advertise large reductions, claiming they can provide the ultimate spiritual experience for a bargain price. But sadly, sometimes this is nothing more than lies.Customers of these fraudulent operators are asked to pay in cash or make a direct bank transfer prior to their trip and are told they will receive their tickets and travel documents nearer to the departure date. But for some they never arrive.

Hajj fraud

How to avoid Hajj fraudsters

Do your research.Don’t book without doing some basic checks on your travel agency/tour operator. A recommendation from a friend or family member does not guarantee the authenticity of the company. Go online and search for the travel company’s name to see if other people have commented on their services.

Make sure your travel company is a member of a recognized trade association such as ABTA. All ABTA members have to follow a code of conduct and meet rigorous entry criteria, minimizing the chance of fraudulent companies joining.

If you are booking a flight-based package make sure your travel company is ATOL (Air Travel Organizers’ 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 traveled yet.

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 audit-able 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.

Mohammed, 36, from Birmingham lost £4,500 to a Hajj fraud. He felt deeply embarrassed but, importantly, reported the crime to Action Fraud.

Please don’t suffer in silence or feel embarrassed. We cannot tackle this problem without details -reporting your case may enable illegitimate operators to be closed down and other Muslims saved from falling prey to the scam in the future.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. Only by knowing the true scale and nature of the threat can the police effectively target the fraudsters who are causing most harm to the Muslim community.Please do report any crimes of this nature as soon as possible.

Call 0300 123 2040 or visit the website:Action Fraud If you are having consumer related problems with your Hajj travel provider, please contact Trading Standards via the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 0345 404 0506 or hajjhelp@birmingham.gov.uk

Further Information

The Council of British Hajjis website offers advice on how to book your pilgrimage safely. ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents)-check that the travel company you are considering is a member and therefore legitimate. ATOL (Air Travel Organiser’s Licence)-check that the air travel provider you are considering is ATOL accredited and therefore offers protection on your flights.

British Muslims booking trips to Mecca are being urged to take precautions to avoid falling prey to Hajj-related fraud and being scammed out of thousands of pounds. What is Hajj? An estimated 25,000 British Muslims will travel to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia this summer to perform Hajj, with many booking their trips in the coming months. The annual spiritual pilgrimage is a once-in-a-lifetime obligation for all Muslims who are physically and financially able to undertake the journey.

Embarrassment and fear As Hajj approaches, Muslims are being warned of the “despicable” scams that have seen families duped out of tens of thousands of pounds. There were 17 reports of Hajj-related fraud made to the UK’s fraud reporting centre, Action Fraud, in 2017, marking a 143 per cent increase on the previous year’s reporting figures. These numbers are thought to represent just the tip of the iceberg, with many victims feeling too embarrassed, ashamed or frightened to report what has happened to them.

The Council of British Hajjis estimates that the proportion of Hajj fraud victims notifying Action Fraud of the crime could be as low as three per cent. Scammed for thousands Hotspots for offending were London, the West Midlands and Manchester, according to Action Fraud, which has revealed victims were conned out of amounts ranging from £1,000 to £33,000 between 2013 and 2017. Victims were conned out of amounts ranging from £1,000 to £33,000 Hajj-related crimes reported in that period had a total value£988,743, Action Fraud said.

Destroying dreams “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,” said Detective Sergeant Kevin Ives, of City of London Police. “Hajj fraud continues to destroy the dreams people have of making a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca” “Hajj fraud continues to destroy the dreams people have of making a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca,” he added.

‘Despicable’ Rashid Mogradia, CEO of the Council of British Hajjis, described Hajj fraud as “despicable”. “Reporting all fraud and scams is hugely important” Mr Mogradia said: “We want to see all pilgrims complete their pilgrimage safely. “Reporting all fraud and scams is hugely important in ensuring that future pilgrims do not have their trip of a lifetime destroyed by the criminals.” How can I avoid falling victim to Hajj fraud? 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. Make sure your travel company is a member of a recognized trade organisation such as the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA). You can check if the travel company is an ABTA member here. If you are booking a flight-based package, make sure your travel company is ATOL protected by the Civil Aviation Authority. An Air Travel Organizers Licence (ATOL) protects you from losing your money or being stranded abroad. 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 audit-able paper trail and keep records of financial transactions. If you have been a victim of Hajj fraud, report it to Action Fraud online or by calling 0300 123 2040. (Source: City of London Police)

Read more at: https://inews.co.uk/news/british-muslims-warned-over-hajj-fraud/

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