As many as 25,000 British Muslims planning to book trips to Mecca for Hajj in July are being urged to check that their travel company is Atol protected.

The lesser pilgrimage of Umrah was suspended in Saudi Arabia due to the coronavirus crisis.

Now people booking trips to Mecca to perform Hajj this year are being advised to follow advice from the Saudi authorities and hold off from entering into contracts with Hajj tour operators due to the uncertainty over coronavirus.

The advice came today (Wednesday) from the Council of British Hajjis in partnership with the British Consulate in Jeddah, City of London Police, Birmingham Trading Standards and the Civil Aviation Authority.

A spokesperson for Action Fraud said: “Criminals will use every opportunity they can to defraud innocent people. They will continue to exploit every angle of this current national crisis we find ourselves in and the Hajj & Umrah market is no different.

“Should this year’s Hajj pilgrimage be cancelled, criminals could use this as an opportunity to fraudulently offer refunds or alternative tours. Many people will have saved for years to be able to afford to travel to Saudi Arabia and as a result will be absolutely devastated if they are conned by fraudsters.

“We are reminding people to be vigilant at this time and do their research. If you are making a purchase online, look at reviews of the site you are buying from and where possible, pay with a credit card as most major credit card providers insure online purchases. If an offer seems too good to be true it probably is.

“If you receive an email, text or phone call you are not expecting, or from someone you do not know, asking for your personal or financial details, do not respond. Do not click on any links or attachments in suspicious emails or texts you are sent out of the blue.”

Rashid Mogradia, founder and chief executive of CBHUK, said: “Due to the current Covid pandemic, the FCO are advising indefinitely against all but essential travel and there seems to a lot of uncertainty over whether or not Hajj will take place this year.

“The Saudi authorities are taking the health and wellbeing of Muslims from all over the world wanting to undertake the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimage seriously by suspending the lesser pilgrimage of Umrah, and advising people to defer making Hajj bookings until there is a clear picture on the spread of coronavirus.

“Those with existing Hajj bookings should not panic and wait for further instructions from their tour operator, but in the meantime remain vigilant and check that they have booked with an Atol holder and have been issued with an Atol certificate and that they are Ministry of Hajj & Umrah approved.”

CAA head of consumer protection Matt Buffey said: “When bookings for Hajj and Umrah recommence, make sure you research your travel provider before booking to ensure your important trip is Atol protected.

“Making a booking through an agent that is not licenced by Atol and the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah risks both your money and your pilgrimage.