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The number of Hajj travel fraud cases dropped by a third in the year to March – but investigators believe many cases go unreported.

The average loss is estimated at £2,651 with most offences taking place in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Blackburn.

There were 49 reports of Hajj fraud made to Action Fraud in the 12 months from April 2015, marking a 33% drop on the previous year’s reporting figures.

However, law enforcement officials and figures within the Muslim community remain convinced the number of cases represent just the “tip of the iceberg,” with many victims feeling too embarrassed, ashamed or frightened to report what has happened to them.

Sixteen police forces will be engaging with their local Muslim communities through meetings and via their own social and digital media channels to try to break down remaining barriers as part of a nationwide awareness campaign.

This sees City of London Police teaming up with forces across England, Wales and Scotland to encourage reporting of Hajj fraud.

The campaign – delivered with the support of the British Council of Hajjis, the Civil Aviation Authority and the Abta – 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.

City of London Police, the CAA and Birmingham Trading Standards officials visited a string of travel agents in the Birmingham area earlier this month suspected of selling unlicensed package tours to Mecca.

Owners of the agencies were warned about advertising themselves as being Atol licensed when background checks revealed this may not be the case.

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

City of London Police commander Chris Greany, police national co-ordinator for economic crime, said: “Hajj fraud continues to destroy the dreams people have of making a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca.

“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.

“The 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.”

CAA head of Atol compliance, Mark Rayner, said: “Any UK travel business selling air packages, which includes Hajj pilgrimages, must have Atol protection; it’s as simple as that.

“Sadly, we have seen cases of both high street and online travel businesses selling Hajj package deals that either don’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.

“It 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.”

Abta head of financial protection, John de Vial, said: “The 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. In 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.”

Council of British Hajjis chief executive, Rashid Mogradia, said: “Hajj 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.”