Detectives from the City of London Police, working with Birmingham Trading Standards, arrested three people after executing warrants at a travel agents in Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester today (20 April).
The suspects are believed to have been selling Hajj and Umrah travel packages falsely claiming they are protected by the Air Travel Operators Licence (ATOL).
The group have also been providing confusing information on their website about what is included in the sale price of the travel packages, which has resulted in a number of customer complaints.
Two men both aged 55 and a 54-year-old woman were arrested on suspicion of fraud by false representation and currently remain in custody.
For the past two years the City of London Police as the National Policing Lead for Fraud, has been working with UK police forces and Birmingham Trading Standards to clamp down on Hajj and Umrah fraud. This has included operational activity across the country and national campaigns to prevent Muslims falling victim to fraud and encouraging anyone who does to report to Action Fraud.
Nationwide up to 25,000 British Muslims travel for Hajj each year, spending up to £125 million on pilgrimages.
Today’s arrests were a result of joint intelligence sharing between the regional fraud team, Birmingham Trading Standards, Tameside Trading Standards and the City of London Police’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau.
Sajeela Naseer, Head of Trading Standards for Birmingham City Council, said: “The warrants executed today by our Trading Standards officers and the City of London Police have maximised our effectiveness in tackling Hajj package tour fraud, and we are looking to prosecute the travel company as a result of the arrests made in Tameside this morning.
“Our visits related to a business which we believe is defrauding and misleading their customers, and has already been previously warned. We have successfully prosecuted such operators for a number of years and, through our investigations, we are identifying many more operators who are trading nationally through the internet or advertising.
“We believe this is an under-reported but widespread problem, and last year the National Trading Standards Board established a National Task Group led by Birmingham City Council to help tackle these illegal activities. This has enabled us to adopt a co-ordinated approach working with different local authorities and the City of London Police to clamp down on the perpetrators.”
Det Sgt Kevin Ives, who has led the operation, said: “Today’s warrant is part of a much larger operation to prevent people falling victim to Hajj and Umrah fraud. Fraudsters across the country are known to be selling fraudulent travel packages to Muslims who are often making a once in a life time pilgrimage to Mecca.
“The City of London Police is committed to working with National Trading Standards and the Muslim community to prevent this fraudulent activity and ensure pilgrims can book their trips to Mecca safe in the knowledge that everything they are being offered will turn out to be true.”
If you have been a victim of Hajj or Umrah fraud please contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.
Media contact: Merryn Hockaday at City of London Police on 0207 164 8272
Notes to editors:
· As well as being the National Policing Lead for Fraud, the City of London Police also runs Action Fraud and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB), which processes and analyses hundreds of thousands of reports of fraud each year.
· The intelligence from these reports forms the basis of crime reports sent to UK police forces for investigation and fraud alerts sent to public and private sector partners and is used to recommend disruption activity against fraudulent bank accounts, phone lines and websites.
· City of London Police recently ran an online holiday fraud campaign with ABTA explaining how more than £2 million was lost to this crime in 2014 (put in a couple of pieces of coverage)