Park City's lodging owners and managers have worked hard to establish their reputation among the world's top destination-resort hosts, and they expend a lot of resources upholding that brand in order to attract visitors. So it must be horrifying for them to learn that their town is being targeted by swindlers.

Recently the Park City Police Department has logged a rash of reports from dejected visitors who paid hefty deposits on what turned out to be bogus rental properties. In some cases the units did not exist at all; in others the locations were real but they were not rentals.

Saving up for a ski vacation is tough enough without the risk that someone will pocket your reservation deposit. And that's not to mention the expense (and heartache) of arriving in Park City only to have nowhere to stay on a busy holiday weekend, and being faced with the decision whether to go home or shell out premium rates for whatever may still be available.

Unfortunately, one bad experience like that will turn away a potential Park City fan forever. Since the start of the ski season, the police department reports at least 10 rental frauds have occurred. That's 10 (plus an untold number of friends and family who hear about the nightmare) people who will probably never return.

And since almost everyone who lives in Park City, and many in Summit County, have a substantial stake in the success of the local tourism industry, it is up to all of us to help expose and prosecute these disreputable characters.

The first step is to make potential victims aware of the crime. One individual has already provided a valuable public service by posting a scam alert on Craigslist, where several of the advertisements that reeled in unsuspecting customers were posted. Another is to make sure that lists of reputable lodging businesses are easily accessible. The Park City Chamber/Bureau, for instance, maintains a directory of legitimate local property managers and owners.

Another important tool is education. Many of those who try to rent directly from owners in an effort to find a bargain are least able to afford a mistake. Lodging groups and the community at large should do everything they can to publicize the risks of going solo and, in particular, of using anonymous online ads.

Finally, when visitors come forward about being defrauded, they should be encouraged to pursue the matter, even if it requires local support. Unless these thieves are brought to justice, they will continue to erode Park City's sterling reputation.