The BBC has recently published an article about the growth of businesses that connect people so that one can transport goods abroad for the other. Theoretically this allows clients to receive commodities they couldn’t otherwise, and allows carriers to capitalise on any unnecessary or additional baggage allowance. The BBC’s advice that those reacting cautiously to this idea ‘might need to think again’ is somewhat worrying in light of the risks that carrying others’ luggage brings.

A few of these companies have emerged in the last few years. The sorts of goods transported vary greatly, from Apple products to the likes of French salami, Japanese sweets, coffee, and candles. And participation is growing fast with at least one company already surpassing 10,000 users.

Safety precautions are taken, for example one must verify their identity and sometimes bank account before making a transaction. Further, some companies limit what can be transported to new products only, from registered shops. However, many do not monitor so stringently.

The risks of this industry are substantial. The potential for recipients to conceal drugs or other illegal items within products being transported – especially those from unregulated sources – is supported by the multiple instances in which people have been arrested and imprisoned for unknowingly trafficking illegal items whilst transporting something for someone else. The added financial motive for transporting goods adds to the scheme’s lure, pulling more people towards the risks. Worse, a large amount of those would likely be people needing money and so less willing to be deterred by the danger.

Prisoners Abroad have supported multiple people imprisoned due to being tricked in this way. M. H.’s story illustrates this:

I met… a guy… at the hotel… it turned out he was on the same flight as me… he had excess luggage, but not enough money to pay for it. He asked me if I would take one of his bags for him. I opened up the bag – it had lots of smaller bags inside… they were curtains. But I didn’t know that they were going to swap the bags before I checked it in… I trusted him… and I did four years for it.

The problem is that, despite the ‘safety’ measures put in place by companies, carriers can be tricked and in many countries it will be the carriers that take the blame. In the words of the one of the companies’ itself, the end of the day, it is the individual traveller’s responsibility to ensure they comply with the relevant laws of the country they are travelling to...

Although often regarded as a positive step towards easy international consumerism, these businesses, which encourage people to transport others’ belongings, should be viewed and approached caution – the consequences of moving goods could in some cases drastically outweigh the reward.