Last Updated: Wed Nov 03, 2010 12:48 pm (KSA) 09:48 am (GMT)

Con artists prey on UK Muslims ahead of hajj

Up to 30,000 British Muslims head to Mecca to perform hajj every year (File)
Up to 30,000 British Muslims head to Mecca to perform hajj every year (File)

As Muslims across the world prepare for the upcoming hajj season, con artists in the United Kingdom are preying on the faithful and scamming them out of thousands of pounds with hajj packages that either fail to deliver or turn out to be completely fake.

With nothing but a stack of leaflets dropped off at local mosques, con artists lure people who want to perform the annual pilgrimage with offers of deals including a visa to Saudi Arabia, internal flight to Mecca, accommodation and other amenities needed.

 What is happening is some people take money for things that they don’t deliver and others take money and passports and disappear 
Javed Aziz

"There are two kinds of cons being carried out by a small element of rogue people" Javed Aziz, the chairman of the Association of British Hujjaj, an organization that helps British Muslims with their journey to Mecca, told Al Arabiya.

With between 20,000 to 30,000 British Muslims heading to Mecca each year swindlers see a lucrative opportunity make at least half a million pound by charging up to £4,000 (around $6,500) per person.

"What is happening is some people take money for things that they don’t deliver and others take money and passports and disappear," Aziz said, adding the leaflets include a mobile phone number but no address making it easy for scammers to make half a million and disappear.

A recent scam includes a group of 70 pilgrims, who were charged £2,350 (nearly $4,000) per person, arriving to Saudi to find the internal flight to Mecca they paid for was bogus forcing them to pay for a coach to the holy city.

Upon arriving to Mecca the group found they had no accommodation and were forced to sleep in a kitchen of one of the make-shift tents.

"People are being taken for a ride because if you have never been to hajj before you are hoping for the journey of a lifetime and expect people to be sincere and honest," Aziz said, adding the association is lobbying the British government to help bring the con artists to justice.

"Fake doctors' notes"

 People are being taken for a ride because if you have never been to hajj before you are hoping for the journey of a lifetime and expect people to be sincere and honest 
Aziz

Aziz said another problem his association was tackling was "fake doctors' notes."

"The Saudi government has put conditions for people to take the meningitis vaccine and illegitimate tour operators are producing fake doctors' notes for people who do not want to get vaccinated."

Aziz said the association was working hard to raise awareness and urged people to be vigilant. He said the biggest mistake would be to pay cash, always pay by check.

"People are scammed because con artists play on their emotions and the sacred meaning hajj has for Muslims," Aziz said, referring to the importance Muslims place on hajj as it is one of the five pillars of Islam.

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