Tierrasanta neighborhood on alert after thieves target air conditioning units for high-priced Freon

SAN DIEGO - 10News was tipped off Wednesday night to a crime targeting homeowners during this heat wave.  

Air conditioning units are being hit by thieves, and the Freon or refrigerant is what they are after.

At first, Jeff Saunders and his wife Cassie had no idea why their brand new air conditioning unit was not blowing cold air into the home. 

A technician came out and confirmed the Freon inside their AC unit had been completely drained.

"We've had the thermostat set and its run throughout the middle of the night, so I think people are walking the neighborhood, they hear the hum of the AC unit and then they hop the fence and do their thing," said Saunders.

The Freon was refilled and their AC unit was tampered with again but because the technician installed special locks, the thieves were unable to siphon out any more Freon.

"Once they're screwed on you need a real special tool to get them off," said Saunders.

Oscar Santos, the president of V.I.P. Plumbing HVAC Electrical, told 10News, "Right now, we're being told to lock up all the vans. It's like gold. $600 a bottle is very expensive. It's expensive for us to buy it."

Santos added that you have to know what you are doing to siphon the Freon from an air conditioning unit into a bottle. He says if you do, you can get in and out undetected.

"I can go to a house – any house – without nobody knowing, hookup and dump 5 to 10 pounds into this (bottle) in 10 minutes," he said.

Meantime, the Saunders have installed an outdoor motion sensor light and filed a police report.

Neighbors say they would be surprised if it happened again.

"We know about it now so there's a lot of people watching," said Andy Smith, a neighbor of Saunders. "We have a neighborhood watch here and look out boys if you're coming back, you're going to have problems."

Santos said the stolen Freon is sold to unlicensed air-conditioning technicians or directly to customers who are unaware they are getting recycled Freon, which is contaminated.

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