US federal authorities and Enfield Trading Standards have shut down a number of websites selling bogus degrees and driving licences, recovering more than $6m (£3.7m).
The websites sold degrees from non-existent UK universities, such as the University of Palmers Green and the University of Devonshire, and fake international driving licences.
Although buyers knew the degrees and licences were bogus, employers in other countries, particularly the US, were taken in by them.
The alleged operators of the websites, a couple with joint US/Israeli citizenship, are said to have run the the racket from Romania and the US.The operation was given credibility by the use of a London mailing address and a staff of two based in north London to forward their mail.
Tony Allen, an investigator with Enfield Trading Standards, said that the business and its clients were relying on overseas employers being impressed by the general good reputation of UK universities while knowing little of the individual institutions.
He said the result was unqualified people obtaining jobs in sensitive occupations such as teaching and working with children.
Enfield Trading Standards started their investigations approximately four years ago after receiving complaints from employers trying to follow up references.
"An investigation normally wouldn't take this long but this was a very complex case," said Allen. "We had to identify where the gang was based by identifying the internet protocol addresses.
"It wasn't until we started dealing with the Federal Trade Commission that we were able to trace these and the bank accounts, which have been frozen by the Americans."
No criminal charges can be brought by Enfield, which, to get the websites closed, had to cite civil procedures and argue that the sites were not in consumers' best interests.
"It's difficult trying to prove deception," said Allen. "The people who bought the degrees knew they were false, so in fact they were doing the deceiving rather than being deceived."
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