Leicestershire Police Join the Fight Against Hajj Fraud
April 18, 2016, 2:51 pm
Leicestershire Police is teaming up with police forces across England, Wales and Scotland to raise awareness and encourage reporting of Hajj fraud.
The national campaign â€“ delivered with the support of the British Council of Hajjis, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) â€“ is being run as part of the ongoing efforts to protect Muslims who will be booking trips to Mecca over the coming months to perform Hajj in the Autumn.
Each year up to 25,000 British Muslims travel for Hajj, spending around Â£125 million on their pilgrimages.
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Between April 1 2015 and March 31 2016 there were 49 reports of Hajj fraud made to Action Fraud, with an average loss of Â£2,651. The hotspots for recorded offending were London, Birmingham, Manchester and Blackburn. 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 their experiences.
To try and break down remaining barriers 16 police forces across the country will be engaging with their local Muslim communities through meetings and via their own social and digital media channels.
Detective Sergeant Carole Walton, Regional Cyber Protect Coordinator for the East Midlands said: â€œIt is really important that people booking Hajj make themselves aware of the potential risks and the steps that they should take to keep themselves and their families safe.
â€œMany victims who have reported Hajj fraud had been saving for years to be in a position to pay for their once in a lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca. Some ordered tickets that never arrived while others made it to Saudi Arabia to find that they had no accommodation booked or their visas were not valid, leaving them devastated at both the loss of their savings and the opportunity to carry out the once in a lifetime pilgrimage .â€
City of London Police Commander Chris Greany, who is the Police National Coordinator for Economic Crime, said: â€œThe key to staying safe and keeping the criminals at bay is to conduct your own research into the travel company you are thinking of using. Make sure it is really a member of ABTA and is ATOL protected and is not just using false logos. You should also get everything in writing and, when you have made a decision, pay for your trip by credit card.â€
The best ways to protect yourself and loved ones from Hajj fraudsters is to:
â€¢ Do your research â€“ donâ€™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.
â€¢ If you are booking a flight-based package make sure your travel company is ATOL (Air Travel Organisersâ€™ Licensing) protected by the Civil Aviation Authority.
â€¢ Get everything in writing and make sure your flight details, accommodation and Hajj visa are valid.
â€¢ Do not pay the travel company by cash or by direct bank transfer into an individualâ€™s account as if they turn out to be fraudulent it will be virtually impossible to get your money back.
Hajj advice leaflets are available in English from your local police station. To view the Hajj fraud video, which includes the account of a victim, or to see the Hajj fraud leaflet translated into seven languages please go to: http://www.cityoflondon.police.uk/news-and-appeals/campaigns-and-initiatives/hajj/Pages/default.aspx.
Mark Rayner, Head of ATOL Compliance, said: â€œAny UK travel business selling air packages, which includes Hajj pilgrimages, must have ATOL protection; itâ€™s as simple as that. ATOL is the financial protection scheme, which gives air travellers the peace of mind they wonâ€™t lose their money and will get home safely â€“ even if the travel business they book with goes bust.
â€œSadly, we have seen cases of both high street and online travel businesses selling Hajj package deals that either donâ€™t have the ATOL protection they should have, or are falsely claiming to have ATOL protection when they are not a registered ATOL company. This potentially leaves consumers booking with these companies at risk of being left out of pocket.
â€œIt is really important that anyone looking to travel to Mecca this September, as part of a Hajj pilgrimage, to look beyond the price and check, then double check that the travel business has ATOL protection and ensure they receive an ATOL certificate once they pay any money towards their trip.â€
Rashid Mogradia, CEO of the Council of British Hajjis, said: â€œHajj preparations are now well underway, with a greater sense of unity from amongst the organisers and regulators in tackling fraudulent activities by unscrupulous individuals, claiming to serve pilgrims of the UK. Pilgrims are urged to follow the simple advice from the City of London Police when booking a pilgrimage package. The Council of British Hajjis will once again exert its efforts in protecting British Muslims, through its awareness campaigns and its White List accreditation initiative.
â€œWe are grateful to the police forces and partner agencies that are pioneering this campaign to bring about â€˜Justice and Opportunity for the Silent Pilgrimâ€™. If you know of anyone who has been a victim of Hajj fraud, then please report this to Action Fraud so that the authorities can take action and stop others from falling victim.â€
John de Vial, ABTA Head of Financial Protection said: â€œThe often very large sums of money paid out for Hajj trips can make them a very attractive target for fraudsters and every year pilgrims lose both money and their travel arrangements. Unscrupulous individuals use the fact that pilgrims may not be aware of the strict regulations in place governing the sale of package travel arrangements in the UK.
â€œIn many cases travel arrangements are of a much lower standard than promised or in the worst cases, they simply do not exist. All types of travel related fraud are unacceptable, but Hajj related fraud is particularly distressing as this is often a once in a lifetime event for many pilgrims and they may never again be in position to fulfil what is an important religious duty for the pilgrim.â€
Source: Leicestershire Police