Thousands of Brits have bought fake degrees from so-called ‘diploma mills’, a BBC Radio 4 investigation has found, raising fears they could be used to mislead recruiters and hiring managers.

One degree mill, named Axact, operates a network of hundreds of fake online universities run by agents out of a Pakistan-based call centre. Fake degrees appear to be issued from bogus universities, with names such as ‘Baychester’, ‘Brooklyn Park’ or ‘Nixon’.

According to documents seen by BBC Radio 4’s File on Four programme, more than 3,000 fake Axact qualifications were sold to UK buyers in 2013 and 2014, including master’s degrees, doctorates and PhDs.

Former FBI agent Allen Ezell, who has been investigating Axact since the 1980s, warned the BBC that some employers are failing to properly vet employees. “Employers are not doing their due diligence in checking out the papers, so it makes [fake degree scams] work,” he said. “It’s the damnedest thing we’ve ever seen.”

“As long as paper has a value, there’s going to be somebody that counterfeits it and prints it and sells it.”

Danny Mortimer, Chief Executive of NHS Employers, said that the NHS has stringent checks in place to ensure degrees are legitimate.

“The standards include six rigorous primary checks aimed at ensuring the right people, with the right qualifications and experience are considered for positions in the NHS and that unsuitable people are prevented from entering the workforce,” he said.

“This includes ensuring individuals are who they say they are and that any documentary evidence provided as part of their application is legitimate. Verification of documentary evidence is achieved through a variety of channels.”

The NHS guidelines provide a good framework for checking if your candidates have the qualifications they claim to. They instruct employers to verify that the degree exists, and, if it was awarded overseas, find out what the equivalent qualification would be in the UK.

If a candidate is found to have provided incorrect or misleading information, such as a fake degree, their offer of employment is withdrawn.

However, last year, one candidate managed to blag his way to a top NHS job, completely fabricating his qualifications. Read about him here.