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No chump change! TSA netted $675K in lost coins

Going through airline security can be hectic, so it's not surprising that passengers sometimes forget to pick up a quarter or dime that's slipped out of a coat and into a security bin.

That's adding up to a small fortune for the Transportation Security Administration, which last year collected almost $675,000 in spare change left behind by travelers, according to agency data. While 2014 represented the biggest lost-change haul for the TSA, it's collected several hundred thousand dollars in unclaimed money during each fiscal year since 2008. All together, forgotten loose change at American airports has amounted to more than $3.5 million in the past seven years.

If no one claims the lost money, the TSA is allowed to keep it, with the funds then going to pay for security operations. A dropped coin here or there can amount to real money, something that the TSA isn't alone in noticing. With the arrival of smartphones and other devices, there's some evidence that Americans are increasingly neglectful of loose change, perhaps because they lack a free hand to pick up a dropped coin or they're so engaged in texting that they're simply not aware of it.

One dedicated coin hunter told The New Yorker magazine since the iPhone rolled out in 2007, he's picked up an average of $95 per year from New York's sidewalks, or 63 percent more than in the two decades before that.

Americans have also become more blase about picking up small change, especially pennies. Once considered good luck, inflation has eaten away at the value of the lowly cent, prompting some to question whether it's worth the time to even stop to pick up a lost penny.

Given that the country's busiest airports provided the biggest coin collections for the TSA last year, there's some evidence that the lost change might be simply due to the hectic nature of getting through a security checkpoint.

New York City's JFK airport was the biggest source of forgotten coins in 2014 -- $42,550 -- according to TSA figures . The runner-up was Los Angeles International Airport.

"TSA makes every effort to reunite passengers with items left at the checkpoint, however there are instances where loose change or other items are left behind and unclaimed," TSA spokesman Ross Feinstein wrote in an emailed statement to CBS MoneyWatch. "Unclaimed money, typically consisting of loose coins passengers remove from their pockets, is documented and turned into the TSA financial office."

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