INDIANAPOLIS - Police have launched a forgery and theft investigation after doctored paperwork allowed illegal containers of Freon to be listed on the Indianapolis black market on Craigslist.
Freon, a coolant used in air conditioning systems, has been rising in price since the federal government started phasing it out due to its depletion of the atmosphere's ozone layer. A federal permit is required for air conditioning contractors to buy it, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Scammers have begun using doctored paperwork from at least one area hospital to allow them to make off with large tanks of Freon in the Indianapolis area, according to recent reports to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.
Those stolen tanks are then showing up for sale on Craigslist, sometimes at prices below the legitimate market value, police said
The scam is apparently allowing unauthorized buyers to quietly steal tanks of Freon that are only supposed to be sold to licensed vendors. Those tanks can then be sold on Craigslist for pure profit.
A large supplier of Freon near Indianapolis International Airport reported to IMPD this week that a person posing as a courier has been picking up numerous 30-pound Freon canisters by handing over phony purchase orders that appear to show that the tanks are destined for the Hendricks County Regional Health Center in Plainfield.
The vendor told police that purchase orders are being presented, which include the federal permit numbers that show the hospital is authorized by federal law to make the purchases.
However, after one recent pickup, the vendor was notified by hospital administrators that the purchase orders were forgeries. Not only had they sold the tanks to an unlicensed person, but the hospital would not be paying for the tanks of Freon after all.
The value totaled $2,095 for the four Honeywell tanks of Freon, police said.
Officers wrote in their report that the vendor logged on to Craigslist after one of last week's transactions, and he found the same tanks of Freon that had just been picked up by the person who presented the forged hospital purchase order.
The ad listed a name and a phone number, which is now being investigated by IMPD for possible forgery or felony theft charges.
Another vendor in Plainfield reported the same forged hospital paperwork in other recent Freon sales.
Stolen goods are commonly found by police on Craigslist, but there are no restrictions on the sale of a regulated product like Freon on the site.
Freon can be found for sale in numerous postings on the Indianapolis Craigslist page, with many claiming to require federal permits before the tanks will be sold. However, there is no guarantee that the government’s rules are actually being enforced in online sales.
No arrests are reported in the case.