The government believes at least 2,000 people have been duped by travel agencies offering dubious cheap umrah (minor pilgrimage) packages.
Deputy Tourism and Culture Minister Mas Ermieyati Samsudin however said it was difficult to determine an exact figure as not all those who claimed to be cheated lodged reports over the matter.
However, based on statistics from the Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Ministry, the number of reports lodged over umrah travel agencies appeared to be decreasing.
"In 2015 there were 1,641 cases involving claims worth RM8.9 million.
"But as of October 2016 the number is quite low with only 298 cases involving claims worth RM1.5 million," Mas said at a press conference in Putrajaya today.
On Sunday it was reported that some 250 umrah pilgrims were unable to leave the country as their flights were repeatedly rescheduled.
The airline involved, Eaglexpress Air, told Malaysiakini then that the delays were due to it not obtaining a landing permit from the Saudi government.
Mas said the ministry was investigating the matter and hoped to conclude the probe by early next year.
She sid the agency involved could face action if they did not book accommodations and transport in advance; did not make an agreement with pilgrims which stated the terms of the package being offered; or not appointing a representative to manage the pilgrims' journey.
Such offences could result in a RM10,000 fine and or two years' imprisonment, she said.
Meanwhile the ministry's deputy chief secretary Rashidi Hasbullah said that the government was working with the Saudi government to ensure that all the pilgrims involved get passage to Makkah.
He also said that the government was trying to help secure landing rights for Eaglexpress.
"Travel agencies should check whether the airlines they want to charter have landing rights, if not then don't deal with them," he added.
Meanwhile, in an effort to regulate the umrah travel industry, Mas said starting October 2017, agencies must get special umrah licenses.
She also said that the government's Umrah Monitoring Council had set the ceiling price for 12-day-10-night economy umrah package trip at RM4,900, not inclusive of visa fees imposed by the Saudi government.- Mkini