Former radio DJ Kirat Assi has been speaking up about the effects of catfishing on victims, and how the practice should be criminalized. Assi is speaking from a very personal place—for ten years, Assi was in contact with a guy named Bobby, who she believed she’d met through the Sikh community and was a cardiologist.
They started messaging on Facebook in 2009. Eventually, the messaging turned into a romantic long-distance relationship. It wasn’t until a decade had passed that Assi learned the truth: Assi was actually her younger cousin, Simran Bhogal.
Assi told The Sunday Times, that criminalization of catfishing would save a lot of people the pain and confusion she went through, saying, “I think it might serve as a deterrent for a lot of people to know that if you’re caught then immediately it’s a crime, just like driving with a mobile in your hand. It would be an immediate deterrent, so many people will still do it but some people will think, ‘I’m just not risking it.'”
She’s also asking that the term “catfishing” get abandoned entirely because she thinks it makes it sound less serious than it is.
“I call it online entrapment,” she explained. “I wasn’t on a dating site, I’m private online. The connotations associated with the term catfishing are that it’s fun. This impacted my health, my family, friends, social life, my radio work, my career, absolutely everything.”
Assi’s cousin, Bhogal, created over 50 fake online profiles in an attempt to bring the character of “Bobby” to life and maintain their deception. At one point, Bhogal even pretended Bobby died, then contacted Assi against saying they’d been put in witness protection.
The fake online profiles were incredibly elaborate. Bobby even chatted with her parents, friended her friends and co-workers, claimed his brother dated her second cousin, and even posted photos of a baby wearing clothes Assi sent him as a present.
Bobby became increasingly controlling, wanting Assi to be on the phone with him at all times. She ended up breaking things off and instructing family to block him on social media. That’s when her cousin came over to confess.
“I didn’t believe her,” said Assi. “She was my smart baby sister. I was very protective of her, I was very proud of her. I literally called out loads of names of lots of people and she said ‘it was me, it was me’. So who have I been sleeping with on the phone for these past three-and-a-half years? She said, ‘me’. I collapsed. I was physically sick. She never said why. She just said, ‘I was in a dark place’ and ‘I’ve ruined my own life, too.'”
Assi was so stressed out by the situation she lost weight and had to leave her job. Once she discovered what Bhogal was doing, Assi went to the police, but her concerns were dismissed. She eventually sued her cousin in a civil case, which was settled out of court in 2020.
“She has taken ten years of my life from me, years I will not get back,” Assi said of Bhogal. “In that time I could have met someone real, had a baby. I lost my friends, my job, my savings. I opened up to him – her – telling him things about my hopes, dreams, my childhood, that I’d never tell anyone. I feel violated.”
She eventually brought a civil action against her cousin in 2020, which was settled out of court.
Assi has recounted her story in a six-part podcast called Sweet Bobby.