Police are warning Hajj pilgrims to Mecca to be wary of last minute package deals from illegitimate travel operators.

Sutton police said fraudulent tour operators often offer discounts of up to 50 per cent on the normal travel price, but close down shortly before departure, leaving the victim with no tour and no prospect of a refund.

The Council of British Hajjis estimates that some 300 people contacted their organisation in 2011 to say they believed they had been a victim of Hajj fraud, yet only one per cent reported the crime to police.

In previous years some pilgrims from London have been tricked out of up to £10,000 for trips to Mecca with their family.

Around 25,000 British muslim pilgrims are expected to travel to this year's Hajj on October 24 to 29.

The Metropolitan Police Service is working alongside the Muslim community and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, operated by City of London Police, to tackle the problem.

Police have listed a number of ways for people to avoid falling victim to fraud.

They include using travel agents and tour operators that were ATOL (Air Travel Organisers' Licensing) protected, checking travel agents or tour operators were accredited by the Saudi Embassy, checking exactly what you were paying for, and getting everything in writing.

Inspector Andrew Stalley, partnerships inspector, said: "Hajj fraud is a particularly cruel crime which robs people of the means to make what could have been their once in a lifetime trip to Mecca.

"By working together with the Muslim Community to raise awareness of Hajj fraud, we can stop the criminals who cause so much misery - and help to protect those planning to make their own pilgrimage in 2012."

Anyone in the borough who believes they have been a victim of Hajj fraud should call Sutton Police station on 101 or to action fraud, the UK's national fraud and internet crime reporting centre, on 0300 123 2040.