If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is. At least in the case of summer housing rentals on Martha’s Vineyard.

As the summer season approaches, a proliferation of housing scams in the form of false online rental advertisements has caused headaches, dashed hopes and, in some cases, led to substantial loss of money for desperate workers and vacationers already saddled with the difficult task of navigating the summer rental market.

“Yes, the rental scams,” said Oak Bluffs detective Jeffrey LaBell. “It’s kind of a recurring issue that I’ve seen this year.”

In February, Edgartown police received a report from a man who located a house for rent on the classifieds website Craigslist. The house was listed at an address on North Water street, the report stated. After several correspondences through email with the supposed owner of the property, the man wired $2,600 through Rockland Trust bank to secure his rental. But when he went to make his travel arrangements, he thought he had made a mistake: the address on North Water street was actually the Harbor View Hotel.

Just last week, Mr. LaBell received a call from a man who found a rental property online supposedly located on “Ocean View Avenue” in Oak Bluffs. When the man did a little more research, he realized “Ocean View Avenue” didn’t exist.

“Yeah, it’s pretty crazy,” Mr. LaBell said. “I’ve heard of someone who took an advertisement right off the rental sites and put it on Craigslist. I’ve also had someone show up to a property they supposedly rented and have people already there who owned the house.”

These scams aren’t new. For years, an over-saturated and unregulated online rental market has proven the perfect feeding ground for con artists looking to profit off the Island’s abundance of desperate prospective tenants. They start with a Craigslist posting, using photos often poached from actual online real estate listings to advertise the rental. The scammer then gleans details about the property — such as address, distance from the beach, and size — that make it seem legitimate. All they require to secure the rental is a small up-front security deposit, generally transferred via money wire.

“A lot of people come here in the summer, and there are a lot of legitimate rentals so the scams think they can blend in,” Mr. LaBell said.

Since 2014, Edgartown police have received reports of four such scams, with money lost ranging from $300, to $1,200, to the recent $2,600 scam in February. In September of 2018, West Tisbury police chief Matt Mincone said he received reports of someone listing a property in Seven Gates for a little over $1,000 a month. He said the property normally goes for nearly $5,000 per week in the summer.

“It was just obscenely not what Seven Gates was going to be,” Mr. Mincone said. “That didn’t work out very well for the people who were trying to rent it.”

Mr. LaBell said that he’s looked into some of the fake posts but has found it tricky to track the scammers because they extend beyond the bounds of Oak Bluffs jurisdiction.

“I have investigated them in the past, and they are difficult because a lot of times they take us over state lines, into different countries,” he said. “So I do a lot of posting on social media about it, trying to make people aware.”

Although it seems like these scams are geared toward short-term summer vacationers, and that shrewd year-round tenants well versed in the business of summer rentals would have the experience to avoid traps like these, that’s often not the case. In fact, year-round renters are often more susceptible because they are the ones most desperate for the seemingly reasonable rental rates these scams promise.

“Even the people who live here year round, there’s lots of them whose hearts quicken when they see these ads,” said David Vigneault, director of the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority. “It’s come to that out here....It’s nuts, it’s totally nuts.”

A recurring CraigsList advertisement lists a two-bedroom, two-bathroom property off County Road in Oak Bluffs for $130 per night. The ad describes the interior and exterior of the “gleaming” property, detailing its “cranberry red” sofa, trundle bed, flat-screen television, en suite bath, Adirondack chairs, wrap-around porch, and ability to sleep four. Even though $3,900 per month would be a reasonable summer rate for four tenants looking to live in Oak Bluffs, the post has been flagged for removal and subsequently re-posted at least three times in the past two weeks alone.

Meg MacKinnon, who worked for a summer at the Farm Institute on the Island, said that she saw the same post two years ago.

“It’s the exact same house that my friends and I were trying to look at when we lived here,” Ms. MacKinnon said. “I emailed the listed address when I saw the ad for it, and it sounded good at first. But then I asked, when can I come see the house? And they said they weren’t doing showings. And it got sketchier and sketchier. And I was like, this has scam written all over it.”

Ms. MacKinnon then rode her bike by the house and saw that it was occupied by a family.

“The fact that the same house is doing it means that they are probably getting money,” Ms. MacKinnon said. “It has to be working.”

According to researchers, it is. A study done by NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering showed that Craigslist fails to identify more than half of the scam rental listings on the site’s pages and often lets suspicious postings linger for as long as 20 hours before removing them. The researchers estimate there are thousands of false housing advertisements on the website throughout the country.

But Martha’s Vineyard is unique, especially because the Island does not have its own Craigslist page.

“This is definitely one of the most ridiculous places I’ve ever tried to rent,” said Ms. MacKinnon, who now lives in Burlington, Vt. “I’ve never seen anywhere else where there are so many housing scams. There are almost more housing scams than there are places to live.”

Ms. MacKinnon said the sheer number of people who want housing makes almost anyone susceptible.

“You have J1 students coming, college students wanting jobs, you have people just traveling there and wanting to spend a summer on the Vineyard. And it’s so competitive people just jump on the first opportunity that they see,” Ms. MacKinnon said.

Mr. LaBell said that he tells people to ask detailed questions about the property, including the owner’s name and the address, and to try to confirm ownership online. He also suggested researching the area, getting people on the phone, and of course, avoiding money wires.