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A friend of my friend forgot a book in my country. As I am flying to India soon, I was asked if I could take the book there with me. I am worried that something could be inside the book, and that it could be illegal, and then I will be responsible. Am I at risk? Unfortunately I currently do not have the possibility to get more information about the owner or the book. I just got the contact of an elderly couple who are going to give the book to me tomorrow in the city. Am I overly cautious?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Ankur Banerjee Jan 8 at 14:59
  • Are you also worried about an official’s ability to sense you are lying when asked whether you’re carrying something for someone else? – WGroleau Jan 9 at 16:38
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    Anecdotal, but I've met a girl that smuggles LSD on book pages through Ben Gurion to sell in Israel to fund her hippy travels. – mega_creamery Jan 9 at 18:45
  • Just out of curiosity, why can't you just... open the book? Throw it away before you go to the airport if there is something in it he did not disclose. – Laif Jan 9 at 22:42
109

If you have been asked to bring something that belongs to "a friend of my friend", please make an excuse.

I currently do not have the possibility to get more information about the owner or the book

Never bring anything through customs that is not yours, or has not been packed by you, or has the opportunity to be "altered".

If the friend-of-a-friend's book has great value, it should be shipped by an international delivery service, but not with your name on it.

I don't think this stance is overly cautious today. Back story: I went to a certain country with a (no longer) friend who took a book with him. On arrival, he ripped open his own book, where he had concealed seeds of a Dutch strain of skunk weed in its binding. When I asked, it turned out that he had been to this country before and made contact with some growers.

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    Contraband issue aside, you'd also be putting yourself at risk of accidentally violating some customs rule that you aren't aware of. I've heard of people trying things like this to try and get around import duties on purchases. It's too easy to do it the right way that it's not worth the risk. – bta Jan 9 at 0:36
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    @j4hangir it's not distrust, it's just someone is being cheap at best. How much overhead is wasted for 4+ parties (OP, friend, friend of a friend, current holder of book) to transfer a single book? Just mail it. It'll arrive at the door or post office for pickup without needing to schedule a meet-up. So much more convenient. – Nelson Jan 9 at 7:34
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    @Nelson you're assuming a halfway decent postal system. In the UK or Germany I'd agree. It's not like that everywhere. If I had something I needed to send to Russia I would jump at the chance to have somebody carry it for me. My wife (from Moscow) sends lots of postcards to family and friends when we travel. From major EU cities, those going elsewhere in western Europe or the US normally arrive in a few days. Those going to Moscow often take several weeks, and even three months isn't unheard of. That's when they arrive at all... – Chris H Jan 9 at 14:06
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    @j4hangir Given how loosely the term "friend" is used on-line, replace "friend-of-a-friend" with "complete stranger", and ask yourself if you think the OP should be more trusting. – chepner Jan 9 at 15:37
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    @Nelson, confirming anecdote: friend was on a train in Russia where two uniformed people were pulling letters out of a mailbag, opening them, laughing about the contents, and throwing them away. (Which doesn’t justify what OP asked about) – WGroleau Jan 9 at 16:36
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I am with commenter Aganju here. In some countries this kind of things is completely normal, even among complete strangers. And in plain view of custom officers. I think it depends a lot on the level of mutual trust within a society vs. the availabality of other modes of sending (small) packages quickly.

It is also a situation I have been involved in quite regularly. Both as a sender and also as someone carrying stuff for other people. For some countries, sending e.g. important documents or medication via mail is simply not a good idea. And of course this is also cheaper and quite fast. So I personally do not see how this situation should be suspicious from the outset.

On the other hand there are some reasons to be careful. You apparently do not know India very well (or at least not well enough to know whether this is common or not). Stuff may break or get lost on a flight, and you may not want to take that responsibility. Organizing the pickup may be time-consuming (from my experience, this usually involves phone calls and some waiting). And of course you should also be careful about stuff that you cannot check yourself, e.g. packaged goods. But I personally probably would not be too concerned about a book.

Sure, there is some additional risk involved in carrying stuff for others. But the same is true for sending stuff this way. The carrier might lose things, or he might ask at customs if they think the book is legit. I wonder what could possibly be in a book that makes this higher risk of loss or detection outweigh the risk involved in carrying the book through customs. On the other hand you might also wonder how a book is worth asking a friend of a friend to pick it up and carry it for you. Is it in Romanian and are Romanian-language books hard to find in India?

Basically, if you carry the book, you have a certain risk that you are used for something illegal. If you do not carry it, you risk being considered unhelpful or at least (if you are a foreigner) slightly culturally insensitive. For me personally and for some countries I know (not India), the second risk - as a function of severity and probability - outweighs the first one, but that is a decision that you must make for yourself.

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    I keep to the rule 'never bring anything across a border for anybody' as I value my freedom more than the convenience of someone else. – Willeke Jan 7 at 13:04
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    Let me generalize this: "I never do favor X to Y because it might be a trap". I think this is is quite reasonable for some X and some Y, but not necessarily for transporting used books across a border. – Jan Jan 7 at 13:29
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    @Jan, there are plenty of aspects to this situation that make it suspect to say the least. Sure, books can have sentimental value, but if so, you'd expect the owner to take better care of it. They're also usually cheap to replace. And the "friend of a friend" part makes it even less trustworthy. What is the relation between OP and the friend? And between the friend and their friend? And the latter and the "elderly couple"? How do they happen to live in the city the OP visited? If there was more of a backstory, surely OP would've mentioned it? The lack of details is worrisome. – CodeCaster Jan 7 at 14:51
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    1. A package of regular mail from Romania(?) to India? One week? Are you sure? 2. I would draw the line according to how well I know someone. Jewellery has a high likelyhood of being taxed at customs. It is also likely to make people really upset if lost. So I would carry that only for people I know very well. Bit the OP's question is about a book. 3. The book may also be easy to replace where the OP lives and hard to replace in India. I live in Europa and I own a number of books that are easy to replace in certain countries and hard to replace where I live. – Jan Jan 7 at 16:02
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    @Jan DHL will send a medium sized package up to 2kg for 16 Euro from Germany to India and says it will take about 10-14 days. You can pay a few euros extra to get expedited shipping and even insurance. Taking a non-trivial risk (there was already an anecdote by somehow how this can go horribly wrong) to save someone you don't know less than 20 bucks is simply naive. – Voo Jan 7 at 21:37
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Just a different view here.

During floods in Kerala, India, I was in Singapore. There was a high problem of clean water, especially in rural Kerala. So, we friends met and found a high volume manual water filter that is found by a startup in Singapore. Problem is sending via mail or courier. It will take too much time to clear customs and by the time it reaches there, utility would be over.

So, checked and sent via a friend's friend who is going to Kerala and sent via him. Purchased at noon, at night it was in Kerala and from morning, it helped a lot of families access to clean water in time of need.

So, check the reason, check the story and if you feel trustworthy enough to transport, do that after proper verification. If you don't feel comfortable, feel free to reject. A book which is valuable for them and needed soon is ok, in my personal opinion.

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    The problem is that the OP doesn't feel comfortable and doesn't really know the "book" provider. He isn't even sure it is really a book - it could be a large, sealed book-shaped package. How do you verify that? – Oscar Bravo Jan 8 at 8:55
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    If you don't feel comfortable, feel free to reject. - This. The book can be opened and verified. Ask the person not to pack. – Anish Sheela Jan 8 at 9:50
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    When I ask my friend's to bring anything to send anything via them (yes, it happens frequently). I don't seal the package, so that they can verify. I usually take it out and show the item before handing over. – Anish Sheela Jan 8 at 9:52
  • It may not be something a regular person could verify. What if a micro-storage device were embedded in the cardboard of the cover (assuming a hardback book)? OP probably isn't going to destroy the book cover to make sure it doesn't contain contraband. So unless it's a very obvious decoy, OP may not be able to adequately verify that it's ok by inspection. – bob Jan 8 at 20:08
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    Yes. It all depends on trust. If you don't trust, you don't do it, however simple the item is. – Anish Sheela Jan 9 at 0:05
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This depends on a lot of things but first and formost it should depend on how much trust you are willing to place in the ‘friend of a friend’ (hereafter FOAF) and in the friend whose friend it is.

If the FOAF is someone I met a couple of times but whom I wouldn’t yet call a friend, if the actual friend of mine is someone I share and do a lot with and if the story in general checks out then I would probably agree. However, there are a lot of red flags that could be raised:

  • if I never met the FOAF that’s essentially a no
  • if the friend themself is someone I am not overly close with, that’s a no
    (I have friends whose requests I am more likely to deny than others’)
  • if the connection to the elderly couple raises even the slightest doubt, that’s essentially a no
    (Why was the FOAF with them? Are they related?)
  • if the explanation for choosing a human courier over the mail don’t add up based on what I know about my friend and their friend or if it doesn’t match what I know about their typical behaviour, that’s a no
  • if there’s even the smallest hole in the FOAF’s story of why they were in your country, that’s essentially a no

The list goes on and there are more questions that can be asked. Only if you are comfortable with every single answer to all questions that come up you should be willing to agree. The fact that you asked this question strongly implies that you are unsure about at least one aspect and that you should probably (politely) decline. However, I won’t deny that I can see examples where I would agree.

4

As they say, if you have to ask, the answer is "No".

It's fine to accept parcels from friends (I've done that myself), but only for a definition of "friend" which implies deep unconditional trust.

Imagine you're stuck near that person's house with a body you need to get rid of. You have an explanation for what's happened, but a random stranger will likely assume you just killed the guy for cash and call the police. Would you consider asking that "friend" to give you a hand? If not, there's not enough trust between you to carry items over the border for them either.

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    Me, reading each paragraph: 1. "Okay, good point." 2. "Hm, not fine at all, but you're talking about trustworthy friends." 3. "WHOAH NELLIE!" -- I think you might have drawn a more relevant analogy with the Star Trek episode The Trouble with Tribbles, rather than using murder and disposing of evidence to make your point. – Rich Jan 8 at 19:38
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Just say No.

It's not your book, so you shouldn't be taking it unless you're being paid as (and have insurance as) a courier - which would be much more expensive than mailing the book. Also, is that book available in India? If so, it would probably be cheaper to buy a new copy.

You don't know these people. You should not be risking so many unknowns for them.

-8

Some paper is actually explosive. A few such pages embedded in a book could be a big problem on a plane. TSA rules say don't take it, period.

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    {{citation needed}} – lambshaanxy Jan 7 at 13:11
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    @lambshaanxy "Explosive" is a bit of an exaggeration, but en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nitrocellulose is often found in sheets of paper form for things like stage magic. – ceejayoz Jan 7 at 14:04
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    if it was the case, which I doubt, all books would be prohibited on flights. – Max Jan 7 at 14:04
  • Are you implying that all books are banned on flights? – Alexandre Aubrey Jan 7 at 19:27
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    @Max Nitrate film actually burns pretty badly - you can search for examples on youtube - , but there's lots of just as or more dangerous materials that are trivial to smuggle on board if you wanted to. In any case believing that TSA rules make any logical sense is just as naive. It's just security theater. – Voo Jan 7 at 21:41

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