Hajj fraud warning given to UK Muslims from MPs and police ahead of 2024 pilgrimage

Hajj pilgrims circle the Kaaba, the heart of the Great Mosque in Mecca (AFP/Getty Images)
Hajj pilgrims circle the Kaaba, the heart of the Great Mosque in Mecca (AFP/Getty Images)

Muslims planning Hajj trips are often targeted by fraudsters when trying to organise the costly trip to Mecca but feel too ashamed to speak out, MPs heard in the build-up to this year’s pilgrimage.

Police forces across the country report that British Muslims are being fleeced out of between £1,000 and £33,000 by fraudsters who promise to arrange their Hajj travel and accommodation outside of official channels.

City of London Police are the UK’s lead force tackling Hajj fraud. But they report that only 3% of such fraud is reported, according to Nickie Aiken, the MP for Cities of London & Westminster.

Victims are often slow to come forward because criminals prey on their feelings of guilt, she told MP in a Commons debate, calling the fraudsters “the lowest of the low”.

“They have told pilgrims that, despite the high prices they are paying, complaining might void the religious merit gained by performing their Hajj,” Ms Aiken said in prepared remarks.

“Therefore it is clear that there may be a certain level of shame associated with complaining about their Hajj experience. We must ensure that people feel safe enough to report any suspected fraud through the right avenues."

Commander Umer Khan from City of London Police reinforced Ms Aiken’s message that scams can be minimised by going through the Saudi government’s Nusuk travel platform.

He stressed: “Together, we can help protect the spiritual journey of thousands of British Muslims and prevent criminals from exploiting their faith and trust."

In a bid to streamline the process and tackle fraud, the Saudi government introduced the Nusuk portal for would-be pilgrims to apply for visas and book travel packages including flights and hotels, which can reach several thousand pounds.

British Muslims collectively spend £125 million on the Hajj - but not everyone wins the right to make the journey.

Saudi Arabia administers a quota for each country’s pilgrims. The total for Britain was initially slashed from 25,000 before the Covid pandemic to 3,500 this year, although that was doubled after other countries failed to meet their own quotas.

All places have been filled up ahead of the start of this year’s annual Hajj in mid-June, according to the Council of British Hajjis, which was founded in 2006 partly to combat rogue tour operators.

Bolton South East MP Yasmin Qureshi, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hajj and Umrah, said all UK pilgrims must “exercise caution” and only use the Nusuk portal set up by the Saudis.

“Booking through third-party agents outside of this official system exposes pilgrims to significant risks of fraud, as we have unfortunately witnessed in previous years,” she told the Standard.

“Unscrupulous individuals often exploit the deep emotional desire to perform Hajj, preying on those who may be desperate to secure their place.”

Ms Qureshi added: “Anyone who fears they have been a victim of Hajj fraud should not suffer in silence or feel embarrassed about coming forward. It is very important that they report the crime to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.

“We cannot respond to the threat and put a stop to it without information. This will help protect the community from these crimes.”

The Umrah is seen as a lesser pilgrimage as it can be undertaken at any time of the year. The Hajj is only possible in a set period based on the lunar calendar, and must be done at least once in an adult Muslim’s lifetime as long as they are healthy and have the means.

Responding in the Commons to Ms Aiken, Home Office minister Chris Philp urged pilgrims to exercise common-sense checks such as only booking through approval travel agents and never paying in cash.

“Hajj fraud is a disgraceful example of criminals exploiting a religious pilgrimage for their own personal gain and that is something I'm sure all of us certainly condemn wholeheartedly, and we'll do everything we possibly can to stop,” he said.