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Hajj pilgrims urged to be wary of scams

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As more than 25,000 British Muslims prepare to travel to Mecca for Hajj this week, the government is urging pilgrims to know their rights and beware of scam artists.

In previous years, some Hajj pilgrims have been ripped off by a variety of scams, including paying for a five star hotel but getting substandard accommodation, or in extreme cases, some agents have disappeared and taken pilgrims' money with them.

Unfortunately, in spite of strong measures to wipe this out, pilgrims continue to fall prey to these unscrupulous agents.

Consumer Affairs Minister Gareth Thomas said:

"British pilgrims are entitled to get what they pay for and need not suffer in silence if they feel that they have been ripped off"

"We are urging pilgrims to keep their travel documents, to take photos of any substandard accommodation, and report any unsatisfactory experiences to trading standards".

"The Government believes that many cases of pilgrims losing out go unreported - preventing them from getting the help, refunds or compensation they are entitled to"

The Department for Business has worked throughout the year to spread the word to Muslim communities about the importance of booking with an operator who has a current Air Travel Organiser's licence (ATOL), and pilgrims' rights of redress under the UK Package Travel Regulations.

The campaign seems to be working, with the Civil Aviation Authority reporting an increase in the number of Hajj travel operators applying for ATOLs since the summer. Since last year there has also been an increase in the number of pilgrims lodging complaints, when they have been targeted by a scam.

Case study - victims of a scam

This year, a supposed Hajj tour operator based in Tower Hamlets, absconded with more than a million pounds, leaving more than 300 prospective Hajj pilgrims stranded.

Khalid Pervez of the British Association of Hujjaj (Pilgrims) UK said:

"The Association of British Hujjaj condemns in the strongest terms this ruthless exploitation of vulnerable, innocent people, including the sick and the elderly. And of fraudsters taking advantage of an event that many look forward to as a high point in their lives."

Pilgrims should:

* check their package operator holds a current Air Travel Organiser's Licence (ATOL)

* agree their tour itinerary in writing before parting with any money

* consider booking with a company that has been independently recommended by friends or family

* keep documents such as contracts, invoices and letters in a safe place, as this helps with redress if things go wrong

The CAA's Deputy Director of Consumer Protection, David Moesli, said:

"Every year tens of thousands British Muslims travel to Saudi Arabia for Hajj. If you are one of these it is important to ensure your arrangements are ATOL protected so that you don't lose out if the company you've booked with goes bust. On the CAA website you can use the Check an ATOL facility to check that your Hajj tour operator is ATOL protected."

Hajj pilgrims have the same rights under the Package Travel Regulations as anyone else booking a trip.

Trading standards teams can investigate if a firm fails to honour its responsibilities and can advise pilgrims on how to seek compensation if the service they get is worse than they were promised.

Hajjis that fall victim to a rogue firm should contact the tour operator and seek redress. If this fails, they should speak to their local Trading Standards team or the police, who can take action.

Hajjis that fall victim to such bad service should contact the tour operator and seek redress. If this fails, they should speak to their local Trading Standards.

If Hajjis have given money to a tour operator who then disappears without trace, they should go to the police as this is downright fraud.

Notes

1. Any firm arranging flights as part of a package must have an ATOL, which ensures that payments are protected if the company goes bust. Travellers will be refunded, or can finish their trip and be flown home if they are already abroad when the company collapses.

After the collapse of Luton-based tour operator Go4 Hajj last year, pilgrims were refunded 270,000 thanks to the firm's ATOL protection.

2. This year, a Hajj tour operator based in Tower Hamlets fled with over a million pounds, leaving more than 300 prospective pilgrims stranded. The Metropolitan Police have set up a helpline (020 8217 4947) for victims to report their incidents or gain updates.

3. Pilgrims can check whether their operator has an ATOL on the Civil Aviation Authority's website at http://www.atol.org.uk using the 'Check an ATOL' facility or by calling 020 7453 6424.

4. Gareth Thomas met tour operators and pilgrims' groups in July to discuss improving the situation for those travelling to Mecca. ATOL applications to the Civil Aviation Authority from Hajj tour operators have risen since that meeting.

5. Contact details for trading standards offices are available from C


About the Author

Crown Copyright. Material taken from the BERR- Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform replacing DTI - Department for Trade and Industry. Reproduced under the terms and conditions of the Click-Use Licence.


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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2008-11-24 11:13:13 in Business Articles

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