Sources estimate that about 50,000 fake doctorate degrees are purchased each year. By comparison, there are 40,000 legitimate Ph.D. graduates each year. In other words, statistically more than half of the people that claim to have new Ph.D.s are frauds.
Businesses that provide fake degrees are commonly referred to as degree mills. During one investigative report, a BBC reporter was able to "earn" a degree from one of these organizations, The American University of London.
The reporters constructed a fake C.V. for "Pete," who had a phony work history and no real proof of academic achievement. After paying a $7,000 fee they were awarded a degree based on the false paperwork. Pete, they would later reveal in their report, was one of the reporter's dogs.
Businesses that sell fake degrees aren't new, and neither is the market. At the turn of the 20th century, fake medical degrees had run rampant - a practice appropriately called "medical quackery" at the time. In the 1980s, the FBI ran a sting program called "Dipscam," which shut down 39 diploma mills and led to many criminal convictions.
Still, there isn't much official research and information on fake degrees, mostly because the practice is illegal and hard to trace by nature. That makes it difficult to regulate and enforce, especially given the number of new fakes produced each year. For now, it's up to individuals to make sure that a degree or graduate is real.