So the scene: You're flying from Bogota, Colombia to New York, USA. You arrive, pick up your bag from the carousel, and figure you'll stuff your netbook you used on the flight into your bag now rather than lugging it through the airport under one arm.

However, when you open your bag, you see something that you certainly did not pack. Drugs/a bomb/live snake, take your pick.

Now you didn't pack these, but you're pretty sure the guys ahead who will x-ray / sniffer dog your bag won't take kindly to seeing them there. What are you supposed to do in this situation??

(Note, while this has not happened to me, it's certainly claimed to have happened to several people travelling from Bali, Thailand and other places - see the Schapelle Corby case for an example)

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    Somewhat related: travel.stackexchange.com/q/3220/241 – mouviciel Jan 17 '12 at 8:29
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    Regardless of whether Schapelle Corby is guilty or a victim, I feel this case is one that emphasises the importance about being vigilant of your luggage. If someone can fit in 4.2 kilograms of anything into your bag, do try to notice and alert authorities! – Ankur Banerjee Jan 17 '12 at 15:48
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    inspired me to a question on skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/7614/… – user141 Jan 19 '12 at 15:56
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    @Karlson You very well might not after a long flight. Of course the bag feels heavier than when you started out! – Loren Pechtel Jul 10 '13 at 23:40
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    @LorenPechtel I can confirm this. There was a switching of bags at one airport I went through and I got the same looking bag but not mine. It was actually considerably heavier when weighed, but I didn't notice, I was tired. – Mark Mayo Jul 11 '13 at 1:38

It's an interesting dilemma to be sure. Normally I pack wire ties into my carry on not the whole bag of them buy just enough to tie the locks on the luggage. They are easily removed with scissors or wire cutters but it does tell you if the bag you have checked in have been messed with since having the exact brand make of the wire ties is difficult at best.

Having said that in the US you can simply alert the authorities that if you open the bag and check it to find something illegal like drugs or explosives or live animals. Once you have done this I would suggest calling a lawyer or a friend to get you a lawyer (better safe then sorry).

The bigger problem is if you don't know that these are there in that case get a good lawyer and hope for the best.

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    What if it is interpreted as an instant case of having cold feet? You could just notice the attention and try to escape by claiming being a victim of stuff being "planted" in your luggage? – user141 Jan 19 '12 at 15:15
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    Normally if you packed it you would have finger prints on the packaging. But that's why I suggested to call a lawyer whilst reporting it. – Karlson Jan 19 '12 at 15:18
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    @Andra - There is that risk but you look better to a jury if you pointed it out than if it is discovered. There may be forensic proof that you have not handled it. The bottom line is you are in a bad situation you can make the best of it by informing authorities and then asking for a lawyer before answering any questions. Lawyers do more for innocent people who want to cooperate, even if it is just telling you to keep your mouth shut. – Chad Jan 19 '12 at 19:09
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    Wire ties can be opened without damaging them. Just use a needle to push up the pin in the connector and it slides open and can be reused. – Philipp Oct 15 '13 at 14:09
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    @Philipp Too much work. In the sea of luggage it's easier to find an open one if one needs to use someone elses. – Karlson Oct 15 '13 at 14:10

Best decision depends on the circumstances, including reliability of the police/judicial process, your access to a good lawyer, and your personal situation.

If you're a reasonably wealthy, respectable-looking professional traveling to the U.S. or Western Europe, your best bet is to alert the authorities immediately, not make any extensive statements, and contact a good lawyer.

If you're a backpacker arriving to, say, Southeast Asia, disposing the contraband before customs (for instance, by flushing it down the toilet, or leaving it somewhere hidden, trying not to leave fingerprints or be seen) seems like a better option. If you report it, the police will be interested either in a sizable bribe or to show off a flashy conviction without doing too much work. You're at hand and make a good target, while apprehending the real criminals may be difficult to impossible. The real criminals may even be paying off some of the cops (or they could be senior cops themselves). Once you successfully dispose of the contraband, I think your next priority would be to turn right around and get out of the country ASAP.

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    Smartest advice I've seen here yet. I think ditching the goods is better than trying to be boy scouts and going to authorities, especially in Singapore/China/Bali! – a20 Aug 28 '14 at 23:28
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    What if you get picked up on the way to dispose of said contraband? What if it's explosives, leave them in a toilet to kill a load of people? What if some kids find the drugs? What if someone is following you and they see you dump their drugs down the toilet? I feel this is riskier than trusting suspect police officers. – user9533 Apr 20 '16 at 14:32
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    @Liam If it's explosives, you run as far as you can first, ask questions later. I doubt someone following you into a toilet cubicle is a particularly realistic scenario. As for kids, if they have a habit of fishing stuff out of toilet bowls, they're already in trouble. In some countries, police are the last people you should trust, especially if you appear to be potentially involved in serious wrongdoing. – dbkk Jun 1 '16 at 15:20
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    Calling your embassy / consulate first is probably a good idea. Local police might be better behaved if you can tell them your embassy is already on your side and also embassy staff might be able to suggest a best way to approach the matter – user56reinstatemonica8 Sep 25 '17 at 20:09
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    A problem with dumping it is that whoever put it there will probably want it back (maybe not in the bomb case) and they might not be pleased that it is gone. – badjohn Sep 25 '17 at 20:26

If you notice your luggage has been tampered with before customs inspection, immediately alert airport security/police/customs agents (whichever is closest). What happens after is impossible to tell. Most likely at the very least your bags will be confiscated as evidence in a criminal investigation. You may also be detained or even arrested at least for the purpose of questioning you (and you have brought potential contraband into the country, which might be cause for arrest even if you voluntarily hand it over in some countries).
Don't just try to sneak through customs anyway and get rid of it later, or flush it down the toilet before customs.

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    Flushing it down to the toilet may attract problems not only from the authorities but also from the actual owner. – mouviciel Jan 18 '12 at 8:17
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    @jwenting Unless it's individually packed you'd be covered in that crap which will make the situation worse. – Karlson Jan 20 '12 at 1:44
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    @Karlson hence the advise to NOT try to flush it down the toilet... – jwenting Sep 1 '14 at 6:29

As a person who travels at least once a month all over the world, I have noticed something, in all airports there must be a toilet somewhere between the airplanes gates/carousels and the customs/immigration counters. The easiest way will be disposing things in the that toilet (if possible) specially if you are in a foreign country and you are not sure of the laws there, some countries' officials will not be so understanding and will treat you as a suspect immediately so you better get rid of the stuff right away and continue with your journey problem free. Second option will be (Hold still, Call for official help). There is one exception, If you find a bomb I believe you should do one thing: RUN AS FAR AS POSSIBLE WHILE SHOUTING FOR HELP.

Any way, Please always make sure you check your bags yourself once you reach the airport and before you check them in. Always use some kind of lock. These little efforts might be the best solutions to these problems. Always keep your bags at your sight and never ever leave your bags unattended.

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    If I was a bad person and I hid something in your bag so you would unknowingly carry it through customs, and then you showed up outside customs without it saying "oh, I flushed that down the toilet in the airport" I rather doubt you would continue with your journey problem free. Once this has happened to you, you need the police to help you. Whatever the police might do surely pales in comparison to what the bad guy will do if his stuff disappears. – Kate Gregory Jan 19 '12 at 17:12
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    I agree with you in general, But in some countries foreigners are considered to be "Valuable Targets" for extortion. police will shake you down instead of helping you. They will think you are a foreigner who came with a lot of money and they know that you will pay whatever you got just to be cleared.. I am telling you this out of experience. – Nean Der Thal Jan 19 '12 at 19:29
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    @Kate While getting assaulted by the bad guys waiting to receive their package is a possibility, that's a secondary concern, and should be handled by getting the next flight out... to anywhere. Police just won't help you in some countries, they care to either extort money or do an easy arrest to boost statistics... even if the police/judicial system makes is fair, convincing people of your innocence would be a long and difficult task with uncertain outcome. – dbkk Dec 27 '12 at 10:48

Drug smugglers don't plant drugs in innocent people's bags. They have a steady stream of willing volunteers and it is much easier for them to collect the drugs at the far end when they have been carried by paid mules rather than innocent bystanders who might discover the stash and alert the authorities. The drugs are worth a lot of money to the smugglers and they won't take unnecessary risks with them.

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    Try telling that to this guy: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicholas_John_Baker Bringing illegal drugs into Japan is extremely risky (as the high prices reflect). Many of the people carrying drugs into Japan have been either duped or coerced. – Pitarou Mar 2 '12 at 10:45
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    @MHG: Do you have some way to back up what you say? I agree that most mules are willing employees but to say there is no such thing as unsuspecting mules is a big leap you need to provide evidence for. – hippietrail Mar 2 '12 at 14:33
  • They balance the risks of losing them vs the risks of getting caught. Putting them in the baggage of an innocent looks much better when you look at it that way. – Loren Pechtel Mar 2 '12 at 20:05
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    Drug smugglers don't plant drugs in strangers bags. Even when it is a clear case of a plant, it's almost always been done by someone you know. – DJClayworth Mar 3 '12 at 20:49
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    Um, no. See this: skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/7614/… – Mark Mayo Mar 4 '12 at 22:14

Great question. Most airports have rubbish bins. If you "find" some contraband in your luggage, throw it in the rubbish and keep moving. If there are no rubbish bins, consider using the toilets and flush it.

Even if you get caught, you can at least explain legitimately that you did not intend to bring it into the country, which may or may not help your defence depending on which country you're in.

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    Nowadays, due to war on terrorism crap, around the world they are removing rubbish bins from crowded places to lessen the chances of bombs being planted - train stations, airports etc. – a20 Aug 28 '14 at 23:34

There's a reasonably decent American mystery novel that features a courtroom scene with the defense attorney asking the Court to weigh the evidence. (The defendant is charged with smuggling.) The judge replies that he always weighs the evidence, but the attorney means literally. Without the drugs, it matches the weight on the checked baggage receipt. With the drugs, it doesn't.

I would not rely on Perry Mason to get you out of such a mess, but who knows!? (Alas, this is too long for a comment.)

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