MUSLIMS in Worcestershire and across the country planning a pilgrimage to Mecca this October to celebrate Hajj are being warned about fraudsters trying to con them with bogus travel packages.

With up to 25,000 British Muslims spending about £125 million to travel to Saudi Arabia in a show of dedication to their faith every year, a national campaign has been launched this week to keep them out of the clutches of conmen.

Every year about 200 people report falling victim to Hajj fraudsters, only discovering when they arrive in Saudi Arabia their accommodation is either very low quality or does not exist or even that the whole trip is a scam.

West Mercia Police is one of the forces meeting with the Islamic community and distributing leaflets in mosques, residential areas and airports.

The campaign is being led by Commander Steve Head from City of London Police, who said anyone planning on making the pilgrimage should check the details of a travel agency or tour operator online before they book to see if it is accredited by the Ministry of Hajj, a member of the Association of British Travel Agents and is protected by the Civil Aviation Authority.

He said pilgrims should also make sure they get every detail of their flight, accommodation and Hajj visa in writing and never pay the travel company in cash or direct bank transfer as it is extremely difficult to get money back.

“June and July is when most Muslims book their Hajj trips, searching online and through local tour operators to find the best possible deal,” he said.

“Unfortunately hiding behind some of the most attractive travel packages are criminals running scams designed to take thousands of pounds from pilgrims and leave them stranded abroad or left at home and totally missing out on Hajj.”

Chief executive officer of the Council of British Hajjis Rashid Mogradia said the organisation was working with police to stamp out the problem.

“As a community we are striving to eradicate the term 'Hajj Fraud' and appreciate the City of London Police for taking the initiative to tackle it head on,” he said.

“We urge people to exercise caution when booking a pilgrimage package by checking that the company holds a valid Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing and Ministry of Hajj licence and report any suspicious activity or fraud to the authorities."

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