As the month of July enters its second half, the Muslim world begins preparation for the annual Hajj pilgrimage which will fall on August 30. The occasion will witness vast numbers of the faithful heading towards Mecca – 1.5 million in 2016 – to perform the Hajj. The logistics of accommodating and transporting such large numbers has never been easy; confusion and disorganisation to some extent is to be expected in each one of these pilgrimages, but a predatory industry has also grown that swindles and defrauds pilgrims during the complicated process of the journey.

To combat this threat, the Federal Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony has launched several services this year to protect the 170,000 pilgrims from Pakistan expected to make the journey. Chief among them is an SMS service, which will allow the user to send the first four digits of their Hajj Group Organiser (HGO) enrolment number from their mobile phone to 8331 to check its authenticity. This would verify the details about its enrolment status, the name of its chief executive, its allotted quota and address – so that prospective pilgrims could ensure that the service they are being sold by the travel agent is not a fraud.

This is a positive step that will put the power to make an informed decision firmly into the hands of the pilgrim. If used properly and extensively, much of the Hajj related defrauding can be prevented. With less than a month and a half to go, the government should make sure that the news of this service reaches all pilgrims and they learn how to use it properly.

Other steps, such as capping consecutive Hajj pilgrimages for an individual to allow more people to travel, and establishment of expedited luggage inspection, will also make the process of the pilgrimage much easier.

Large gaps in protection still remain. The most vulnerable pilgrims remain the illiterate ones who are unfamiliar with procedures. SMS services will help these people very little, and not at all if they have booked their trips through private travel agents and not the HGO.

Selling non-existent travel packages are only one aspect of the Hajj scam business, most people are sold packages where the services provided on arrival differ vastly from the ones advertised. On this count, the HGO itself has been guilty of fraud, with the Federal Minister of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony and his accomplices sentenced to long sentences for conducting a similar scam in 2010.

The government is taking positive steps to protect pilgrims, but more must be done to provide comprehensive protection against all sorts of swindlers, public and private.