With 25,000 pilgrims estimated to be heading overseas to Saudi Arabia from the UK for Hajj in the next few days and spending up to £125 million on their travel arrangements,* ABTA is warning all visitors about the dangers of booking with fraudulent or disreputable travel companies. Every year sees individuals paying for travel arrangements that are sub-standard, or in the worst cases, non-existent, leaving victims out of pocket by thousands of pounds.
This year, Hajj takes place between 9 and 14 September. With large sums being paid for specialist Hajj flights and accommodation arrangements, pilgrims need to be aware of the dangers of booking with disreputable travel companies.
ABTA recommends the following simple steps to minimise the risk of being the victim of fraud:
- Do your research – Don’t book without carrying out some basic checks on your travel company.
- Make sure your travel company is a member of a recognised trade body, such as ABTA – The Travel Association, whose Members follow a strict code of conduct and who financially protect package holidays.
- If you are booking a flight based package, make sure your travel company is ATOL protected by the Civil Aviation Authority, and that you receive an ATOL (Air Travel Organisers’ Licence) certificate as soon as you exchange money.
- Get everything in writing.
- Do not pay the travel company by cash or by direct bank transfer into an individual’s account.
John de Vial, ABTA’s Director of Financial Protection, said: “Every year, fraudsters target pilgrims travelling to Saudi Arabia for Hajj. Large sums of money can be at stake as flights and accommodation are at a premium due to massive demand. Fraudsters play on the fact that pilgrims are often not aware of the strict regulations in place governing the sale of package travel arrangements in the UK. In other cases, even when travel arrangements are provided, they are of a much lower standard than promised and in the worst cases the arrangements simply do not exist and pilgrims are left with no course of redress.”
Pilgrims are encouraged to check on www.abta.com or with the CAA on 020 7453 6700 if the company they are booking with is ABTA or ATOL protected.
Victims of Hajj fraud should report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or at www.actionfraud.police.uk Further information is available from the City of London Police’s National Fraud Awareness campaign.