Thousands of UK nationals are believed to have bought fake degrees from the Pakistani fake degree mill Axact, BBC reported on Tuesday.
According to an investigation by the BBC Radio 4’s File on Four, the program found that some of the Axact fake degrees sold went to National Health Service (NHL) consultants, nurses, and a large defense contractor in the UK. Geo News also reported that as much a single British citizen bought £500,000 worth of Axact fake degrees.
BBC’s report stated that more than 3,000 Axact fake degrees were sold to buyers in the U.K. in 2013 and 2014 alone and that they included master’s degrees, doctorates and even PhDs.
Axact, which claims to be the world’s largest IT firm, had their offices sealed after a raid in 2015. According to the Times of India, when The New York Times had unearthed the fake degrees scam in May 2015, it was believed that the Axact fake degree racket in Pakistan had been busted.
However, BBC’s latest investigation, which was broadcast on U.K.’s Radio 4 on Tuesday night, revealed that the rather lucrative fake degree business was still flourishing in Pakistan. During the broadcast, it uncovered that Axact was still operating a network of hundreds of fake online universities that were run by agents from call centers in Karachi.
The fake universities had names such as Brooklyn Park University and Nixon University and were advertised on fully functional websites that featured stock images of smiling students and in some instances even fake news articles praising the institution and the academic achievements of its students.
As reported by BBC, The Department for Education said it was taking “decisive action to crack down on degree fraud” that “cheats genuine learners.”
Who bought Axact’s fake degrees
BBC journalists who were involved in the investigation seem to have seen the list of Axact fake degrees U.K. buyers and reported their findings in the radio broadcast.
The investigation revealed that apart from various NHS clinical staff – an ophthalmologist, a psychologist, and several nurses – numerous other consultants had also bought Axact’s fake degrees.
A consultant at an unnamed London teaching hospital is also believed to have bought a degree in internal medicine from the fake Belford University back in 2007. The report said the doctor involved had previously been disciplined by the by the General Medical Council (GMC) for failing to report a criminal conviction. While speaking to BBC, the doctor said that he had not used the certificates because they “had not been authenticated.” The report failed to provide any further information about the issue.
Later in the report, an anesthetist who bought an Axact fake degree in “hospital management” said to BBC that he had not used the degree in the U.K. Another medical worker, this time a consultant in pediatric emergency medicine, is said to have bought “master of science in healthcare technology” degree from Axact. The doctor, however, claimed t was an “utter surprise” when BBC reporters confronted him and told him it was fake.
Defence contractor FB Heliservices is said to have bought Axact fake degrees for seven of its employees, including two helicopter pilots, between 2013 and 2015. Speaking anonymously to BBC, one of the employees said that soon after the company was given a contract to work on the Caribbean island of Curacao, the local government decided all those working in the territory had to have a degree.
“We looked into distance learning, and contact was made with this online university. It was just something that needed to be done to keep working in the country,” the employee said to BBC journalists. “Everyone knew they were not bona fide. But no-one had a problem with it.”
FB Heliservices’ parent company Cobham held an internal investigation into the incident, but branded the purchase of Axact’s fake degrees a “historic issue” that “had no impact upon the safety of any of its operations or the training of any individuals in the UK or elsewhere,” the Times of India reported. “Procedural and disciplinary actions have been taken to address all the issues raised,” a Cobham spokesperson added.
Not your regular diploma mill
MP James Frith, a member of the Education Select Committee, said Cobham’s decision to continue business despite the Axact fake degree scandal, as usual, was a “very serious issue”.
“I am amazed that a business would put itself and its very existence at risk by having fraudulent qualifications to, by the sounds of it, get into a new market.”
Following a New York Times expose in 2015, an investigation was launched by the Pakistani authorities that result in the arrest and conviction of Axact’s chief executive officer. Umair Hamid, the company’s senior manager, was sentenced to 21 months in a US prison in August 2017 for his part in Axact’s fake degree fraud.
However, despite a high-profile arrest, the investigation soon came to a halt amid claims of government corruption, effectively allowing the remainder of the company to continue operating.
Former FBI officer Allen Ezell, the author of a book about fake degree mills, said Axact continued to launch new online universities all the time and had now branched out into extortion and blackmail. “It’s a whole new game,” he said to BBC. “Normally a diploma mill is finished with you by the time you get your degree. That’s just the beginning now.
“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.”
MP James Firth told BBC he would have the Education Selection Committee look deeper into the issue, saying he was “staggered” by the “aggressive tactics” used by Axact.
U.K.’s national cybercrime reporting center Action Fraud said that despite BBC’s revealing report, it did not have the power to close fake Axact websites. A spokesperson for Action Fraud said that the center had to provide evidence to domain registries and registrars who would then shut down the websites, which could take months.