The Journal of Vibration and Control just retracted 60 articles because of peer review misconduct. A story about it is here:
Apparently, a professor in Taiwan was able to create aliases in the SAGE Track peer review system, and was then able to suggest himself and often serve as a peer reviewer for his own papers. The investigation called it a “peer review ring” that was manipulating the system to get easy passage for their manuscripts, in in the end five dozen papers published from 2010 -2014 were retracted.
This is one of those “what if” nightmares that I face as Editor-in-Chief of JGR Space Physics. I understand that there is pressure to publish and that, sometimes, referees can cause much consternation for authors. Please, don’t sacrifice your ethical integrity to fulfill your need to publish. You will most likely be caught and it will it will end up causing far more harm to your career than the few papers you managed to slip through the system with easy peer review.
I think that AGU has an excellent system in place to defend against this. The biggest thing is that the journal editors are active scientists with extensive knowledge of the community of potential authors/reviewers. I don’t know everyone, of course, and I send manuscripts out for review to people that I don’t know. We mitigate this, however, by having 5 editors for JGR Space Physics, dividing the papers up mostly by discipline so that the assigned editor has some familiarity with the pool of potential reviewers.
Our use of two referees is also a very effective bulwark against this kind of ethical violation. As editor, I occasionally receive disparate reviews, making the editorial decision difficult. I’ll sometimes call on a third or even fourth referee for additional assessments of the paper. We try to be very thorough in our judgments of your manuscripts.
Another big defense against this is the GEMS submission and review system. Even though authors suggest potential referees on the submission pages, I think it is very rare that both referees came from this list and it is a fairly regular occurrence for neither reviewer to be from the list. The “editor’s only” sections of GEMS are quite extensive in helping us find qualified and knowledgeable experts on the topic of a submitted manuscript. Research community members are quite good about updating their contact information and duplicate entries are regularly merged. To me, at least, your reviewer suggestions just get my mind moving in the right direction for potential reviewers.