​Sham Mecca travel agents targeting Muslim pilgrims – police

Women relax on deckchairs during hazy sunshine in Hyde Park in central London (Reuters / Toby Melville)
British Muslims have been warned about phony travel agencies attempting to con them out of money, as thousands of pilgrims prepare to journey to Mecca in September for the Hajj.

Each year an estimated 25,000 British Muslims travel to Mecca, spending a total of £125 million.

In 2014, 87 people reported to Action Fraud they had been a victim of Hajj fraud, with losses totaling £237,995. Police say the actual figure may be far higher, as victims are often too embarrassed to consult the authorities.

Muslims caught by scams often arrive in Saudi Arabia to find their accommodation is either low quality or completely non-existent, while others find they are unable to leave Britain as their entire trip has been planned by a sham agency.

City of London Police has launched a campaign to raise awareness about the prevalence of tourism fraud, which has been backed by the Council of British Hajjis, Get Safe Online, ABTA, ATOL and Trading Standards.

In 2013, one South London travel agent lost £10,000 to Hajj fraudsters when he purchased Hajj travel packages on behalf of some of his customers.

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The initial deal I found fell through which meant I had to go with suppliers that I hadn’t used before. I sent them £10,000 to pay for all the bookings, which included flights, accommodation, food and visas. However, none of the tickets came through and I later found out that the visas hadn’t even been applied for.

“I spoke to the suppliers but they made excuses for not providing the tickets and said they would send a refund, which they never did. I have lost a significant amount of money due to these fraudsters. It still makes me angry to think about this and I’m also aware that there are people around the country, who fall victim to this type of fraud and end up not being able to go to Mecca as a result, which is absolutely terrible,” he said.

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Head of the anti-fraud campaign and City of London Police Commander Steve Head said: “This is the third consecutive year we have run a Hajj fraud campaign reflecting our commitment and determination to raise awareness of this type of fraud in Muslim communities across the UK.

“June and July is the most common time for Muslims to book their Hajj trips and search for possible travel deals which is why we are running the campaign at this point in the year.

“We will be working with police forces with large Muslim populations as well as Muslim groups to ensure that this message reaches the right people and helps them to protect themselves from these ruthless criminals.”