Foreign con artists have been trying for the last few months to defraud American consuemrs by sending them authentic-looking cashier's checks and asking them to wire some of the proceeds from the cashed checks overseas.

Business must be good because the scam artists are getting bolder. Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon recently received a fake check for $5,000 payable to him. He warns that victims who cash the checks often are on the hook for thousands of dollars after banks discover the checks are fraudulent.

"These con artists don't seem to be particular about who they try to scam," Nixon notes.

Nixon says many of the scams of this type reported to his office appear to originate in Nigeria, including the phony check he received. While the check Nixon got was not prefaced by any previous contact, some of the perpetrators apparently have first met their victims in online chatrooms.

After they gain the victims' confidence, the perpetrators may ask the victims to cash a check for them in the United States and send a portion of the check overseas. The victims are told they can keep part of the check.

"The scam artists come up with all kinds of stories about where the extra money will go and, unfortunately, some people believe them," Nixon says. "Victims of this scam may lose thousands of dollars, and tracking down the overseas perpetrators is often very difficult."

The checks look very real, and use the logos of real banks in the United States, Nixon says.

"Several of these banks have reported millions of dollars in fake checks presented to them for payment," Nixon says. "By the time the fraud is discovered, in many cases the victims already have wired the money overseas."

An earlier variation of this scam involved defrauding people who were selling items online. The purported buyer - often from Nigeria - would send a cashier's check for more than the agreed purchase price and ask that the difference be wired back to the buyer. Again, the check looked real but was fake.

Anyone who receives cashier's checks under these circumstances needs to remember that banks will hold them accountable for the money if the check turns out to be a fraud.