Every year millions of Muslims from around the world make the journey to Mecca and Medina, Saudi Arabia, for the annual pilgrimage or Hajj.
Hajj is considered one of the five pillars of Islam. Muslims are required to make the pilgrimage once in a lifetime, if they are physically and financially able to make the journey to Mecca.
Hajj is expected to fall between September 9-14, 2016. The exact dates of Islamic holidays cannot be determined in advance, due to the nature of the Islamic lunar calendar.
Tens of thousands of British Muslims will have booked trips to Saudi Arabia in October to make the pilgrimage to the Mecca and celebrate Hajj. They spend as much as £125 million on pilgrimages. However, in the coming weeks some of them may unfortunately find out that their trips have either been soured by sub-standard hotels and travel arrangements or completely destroyed by criminals selling scam Hajj packages for non-existent flights, accommodation and visas. The fraudsters pose as legitimate travel operators who offer discounts of up to 50% off the usual price to make pilgrimages to Mecca. Some people may find out their tour bookings were never made and the fraudsters have stolen their money, leaving them stuck in the UK or stranded in Saudi Arabia. The Council of British Hajjis estimate that only 3% of victims report the fraud.
City of London Police report victims of fraud lose between £1000 up to £33,000. The City of London Police and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, a police unit overseen by the City of London Police, set up in 2010 to combat fraud, are working with the Muslim community and the travel industry to raise awareness of Hajj fraud and to encourage victims of this crime to report it.
The UK authorities are concerned about the number of fraudulent packages on sale. It is believed that hundreds have fallen victim - don't be one of them. The City of London Police, who are the national police lead for fraud, along with Action Fraud, have launched a campaign to raise awareness to keep people from falling prey to scammers as they look for the best deals to take them to Saudi Arabia later this year. There are a number of things you can do to avoid falling victim to Hajj fraud:
A helpful leaflet has been produced to help people avoid getting scammed and is available on the City of London Police website in various languages.
If you think you have been a victim of fraud, please call Citizens Advice consumer service helpline on 03454 04 05 06 or call your local Police.