More than 3,000 UK citizens purchased fake degrees from Pakistan-based IT company Axact in 2013 and 2014, a BBC Radio 4 investigation has revealed.
The news comes just months after an in-depth investigation by Canada's national broadcaster uncovered that hundreds of people working in diverse fields across Canada possess bogus degrees issued by Axact.
Among the British customers of Axact's bogus diplomas are medical professionals working for UK's National Health Service including consultants, nurses, an ophthalmologist and a psychologist, the exposé by BBC Radio 4's File on 4 programme revealed.
An engineer and a major defence contractor which purchased degrees for seven of its employees, including two helicopter pilots, are also among the buyers. The degrees are issued by non-existent online universities with names such as Nixon University and Baychester University.
Axact in an official response dismissed the BBC article as "baseless" and a part of "false propaganda" against it. According to the BBC team, they had written to Axact but no one responded at the time.
Using a bogus diploma to apply for a job constitutes fraud by misrepresentation under UK laws and could result in a 10-year prison sentence, the BBC quoted an official as saying.
An anesthesiologist who purchased a degree in "hospital management" told the BBC he had not used the qualification in the UK, while a consultant in paediatric emergency medicine, who possessed a "master of science in health care technology", claimed it was an "utter surprise" when the broadcaster told him the degree was fake.
UK education authorities told the BBC they were taking "decisive action to crack down on degree fraud".
'Extortion and blackmail'
Allen Ezell, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent who has investigated diploma mills for decades, told the BBC Axact was now resorting to extortion and blackmail to glean money from its customers.
"You get a telephone call that looks like it's coming from your embassy or local law enforcement, threatening to arrest or deport you unless you get some additional documents to help support the phony diploma you already have. We've never seen that before," he said.
According to the BBC report, a British engineer residing in Saudi Arabia, received threatening calls from Axact agents even after paying nearly £500,000 for fake qualifications.
The BBC said Axact did not respond to its request for an interview.
Responding to the BBC report, Axact issued an official response on its website, terming the article "baseless" and "nonfactual". It alleged that the story is "merely a continuation in the saga of smear campaigns".
Axact also uploaded a legal notice for defamation sent to the BBC over the article.
Axact first came into the limelight in 2015 when a New York Times report titled "Fake Diplomas, Real Cash: Pakistani Company Axact Reaps Millions" outlined how the "secretive Pakistani software company" had allegedly earned millions of dollars from scams involving fake degrees, non-existent online universities and manipulation of customers.
According to the report, Axact had created a series of fake websites involving “professors” and students who it said were in fact paid actors.
Umair Hamid, a vice president of Axact, was last year sentenced to 21 months in prison in the US for his role in the international diploma mill scheme. In addition to the prison term, Hamid, 31, from Karachi, was ordered to forfeit $5,303,020. He had pleaded guilty on April 6, 2017 to conspiracy to commit wire fraud.