Is Picking up Loose Change Illegal? | Ethical and Legal Considerations

The legality of picking up loose change largely depends on the circumstances and local laws. In general, if the change is considered abandoned property, it is often legal to collect. However, if the coins appear to be lost or misplaced, ethical considerations may come into play, and it may be advisable to make efforts to return the change to its rightful owner. In this article, we delve into the legal and ethical aspects surrounding the act of collecting loose change found in public spaces, providing insights into the general principles that guide the legality and ethical considerations involved.

Abandoned Property and Ownership

When it comes to loose change found in public spaces, the concept of abandoned property often comes into play. Abandoned property refers to items that have been intentionally discarded or left behind by their owners with no intent to reclaim them. In many jurisdictions, abandoned property is considered "res nullius," meaning it is considered unowned. In such cases, picking up loose change would generally be legal as it is no longer owned by anyone.

Lost and Misplaced Property

However, it's important to distinguish between abandoned property and lost or misplaced property. Lost or misplaced property refers to items that were unintentionally dropped or forgotten by their owners and still retain ownership rights. If someone drops their change without abandoning it, the ethical course of action is to make reasonable efforts to return it to its rightful owner, such as asking around or leaving it in a visible place.

Intent and Circumstances

The legality of picking up loose change may also depend on the intent and circumstances surrounding the act. If there is clear evidence that someone has intentionally left the coins behind, such as by discarding them in a trash bin or deliberately leaving them in an area known for donations, picking up the coins would likely be legal. However, entering private property or trespassing to collect loose change could potentially be unlawful.

Local Laws and Regulations

It's important to note that specific local laws and regulations may exist regarding the collection of abandoned property or lost items. Some jurisdictions may have specific statutes or guidelines that govern the handling and reporting of found items. Familiarizing oneself with the local laws and regulations is crucial to ensure compliance and avoid any legal complications.

Ethical Considerations

While something may be legal, it is also essential to consider the ethical implications of picking up loose change. Ethical behavior often goes beyond mere legality. Some individuals may argue that picking up small amounts of change found in public spaces is inconsequential and morally permissible. However, others may advocate for leaving the change for someone truly in need or for donation purposes, especially if the change appears to have been lost rather than intentionally abandoned.


The legality of picking up loose change largely depends on the circumstances, local laws, and the distinction between abandoned and lost property. While abandoned property is generally considered unowned and can be collected legally, lost or misplaced property should be treated differently. Understanding and respecting local laws, as well as considering the ethical implications of the situation, can guide individuals in making informed choices regarding the collection of loose change found in public spaces

Header image source: King 5 News

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