In what could be the most bananas catfish story ever, a woman swept away in a romance in the United Kingdom, ended up finding out that she could very well have been involved in the longest and most elaborate catfish scheme ever that lasted over a decade and built on a whirlwind of lies.
The victim, Harkirat Assi, now 42, lost a good part of her life, along with relationships and her career as an events organiser.
And the worst part?
The catfish, supposedly a man named “Bobby”, turned out to be her female second cousin, who is 13 years younger.
The entire story has since been laid bare by Assi in a Tortoise Media podcast series, titled “Sweet Bobby“.
The Daily Mail, known for covering stories that are completely bonkers, was even bamboozled by the sheer audacity of the deception that involved deaths and one person coming back to life, after speaking to Assi and assessing the sheer amount of evidence presented.
Catfishing involves luring someone into a relationship by creating a fictional online persona.
2009, when it all started
It all began in September 2009, when a then 29-year-old Assi received a Facebook message from a person known as “JJ”.
JJ was the college ex-boyfriend of Simran Bhogal, Assi’s younger female cousin.
JJ dated Bhogal when she was 16.
JJ’s message out of the blue was to seek Assi’s advice on reconciling with Bhogal.
Assi and JJ would ping several messages back and forth in the following months, until JJ’s mysterious and abrupt death in August 2010.
But JJ was not the bait that reeled Assi in.
In November 2010, Assi received a message from a man named “Bobby”, who claimed to be the brother of the deceased JJ.
This was Assi’s and Bobby’s first contact with each other.
While Assi had never met Bobby before, she had an inkling who he was as he is a real person, whose identity was used and embellished to make Assi fall for the fake version of him eventually.
Assi recounted that she knew of him vaguely as they had several mutual friends, owing to the tight knit nature of the Sikh and Kenyan-Indian community in the UK.
Based on Bobby’s Facebook profile, Assi and him had gone to the same events and even shared the same birthdate.
The availability of such details online left Assi with no reason to suspect or doubt Bobby.
Assi told Daily Mail in her interview with them that she is not a “stupid person” for believing everything at that time.
The details did not appear far-fetched and this was the era where social media was in its infancy.
Assi was also under the impression that Bobby’s intentions were purely platonic and he was not trying to hit on her, as Bobby informed her he was married at that time and expecting his first child.
This further cemented her trust in the acquaintance who could very well also qualify as a complete stranger.
As the Facebook messages between Bobby and Assi became more frequent and in-depth, the pair’s friendship blossomed over time and they soon became close confidantes.
Assi and Bobby continued corresponding over the next five months after initial contact, and throughout Bobby’s supposed marriage troubles until the ultimate dissolution of his marriage.
Catfish deception could have been uncovered in 2011
Some time in the first half of 2011, Assi chanced upon Bobby in the flesh while celebrating her best friend’s hen night in a club at Brighton.
Just as one normally would when one bumps into a friend, Assi approached Bobby to greet him.
However, Bobby gave Assi a less than warm welcome and said he did not recognise or remember her.
Not wanting to push the matter further and potentially embarrass Bobby, Assi brushed off his weird demeanour and simply chalked it up as a case of inebriation, as the real Bobby could have had one drink too many that evening.
What Assi did not know was that she had bumped into the real Bobby.
Faked death for witness protection programme
After this incident, the pair grew apart, and fake Bobby supposedly moved to Australia and got engaged with his new partner.
But Assi and Bobby then reconnected sometime at the tail end of 2013.
Bobby reached out to Assi in the hopes of rekindling their friendship.
And this was where the story took a major dramatic turn.
Bobby had just exited a coma, he said, after being shot in Kenya.
He told Assi he had lost part of his memory and “it feels as though he lost a great relationship” with Assi.
Before Bobby reached out, the pair were not even talking, but Assi learnt of Bobby’s accident through the news feed on her social media platforms.
On hindsight, whatever information about fake Bobby were shared by a host of people who were also all fictitious and made up by Bhogal.
Another roller coaster ride
After they resumed communications, Bobby’s condition took a turn for the worse a few weeks later.
One day in 2014, Assi woke up to a Facebook message saying that Bobby had passed away.
Assi then became a part of a Facebook group consisting of 39 other members, all of whom were grieving Bobby’s death.
And all of whom were not real.
This was something that Assi would ultimately learn.
But at that time the catfishing was ongoing, nothing appeared too extraordinary.
As it turned out at that time, Assi’s cousin, Bhogal, would later inform her that Bobby was not dead, but was very much alive in New York, and under a witness protection programme.
Separated by the Atlantic
Fake Bobby remained in Manhattan, New York in the United States, and Assi continued corresponding digitally with him despite being separated by the Atlantic.
Bobby was then taken ill once again between 2014 and 2015.
This time round, Bobby’s condition was more severe as he told Assi he suffered blood clots, strokes, and partial paralysis.
He also lost some of his ability to speak.
This was an important embellishment as Assi had none to minimal communication with fake Bobby over the phone.
On the rare occasions when she did speak with fake Bobby, he would sound like he had a squeaky voice.
Fake Bobby then began to spiral downwards, and even attempted suicide, based on his voice messages to Assi.
Bhogal would also inform Assi about fake Bobby’s condition.
Fake Bobby was also experiencing troubles with his second wife.
Alarmed at the turn of events, Assi decided to step in and provide virtual support to Bobby, and she soon became Bobby’s “crutch”.
Beginning of romance
Fake Bobby then declared his love for Assi and confessed that he always had feelings for her — some seven months after Assi learnt that fake Bobby was not actually dead.
While Assi dismissed Bobby’s feelings in the beginning, the pair became a couple some time on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, 2015.
Assi’s decision was not borne out of romantic love for Bobby, she said, but from a desire to make Bobby happy and fulfil a dying man’s wish.
Assi learnt from a fake medical consultant who was supposedly treating fake Bobby that the dying man’s time was nearly up.
At that point in time, things were still supposedly not looking up for Bobby on the medical front, and Assi did not know how much time he had left.
Additionally, Assi was reassured by the fact that nothing physical could ever happen between the both of them due to the physical distance separating them.
Assi told Daily Mail she never once sent a nude picture of herself to him.
However, as time went on, Bobby pulled through and was on the mend.
He even won Assi over with his romantic advances, like sending flowers to Assi’s doorstep, as well as gifting a pendant and earrings.
Assi fell head over heels for Bobby, and even told him that he meant “everything” to her.
The beginning of the end
And so began a three-and-a-half-year relationship, where the couple would often communicate day and night, either via messages or over the phone, but never once in person, and not even when the contents of conversation were of a sexual nature.
The couple would stay on the line and listen to each other breathe while going to sleep.
While the pair had a history of interacting via different channels, be it in the form of text and voice messages, Skype calls, phone conversations, or emails, Bobby never once switched his video camera on.
But that was not a hindrance.
The fake consultant even got in touch with Assi once to inform her that fake Bobby was hurt after someone who was with Assi at that time heard fake Bobby’s voice and laughed.
The reason given as to why Bobby sounded squeaky was because he was undergoing speech therapy after he suffered a stroke.
Over time, Assi and Bobby began to work towards a life together.
Bobby brought Assi into the fold virtually, and invited her into a Facebook group consisting of 20 members, all of whom were Bobby’s extended family — and fake.
Likewise, Assi also introduced Bobby to the rest of her family, who are real, with the exception of Bhogal, whom Bobby already knew.
Bobby’s fake family members naturally welcomed Assi, exchanged anecdotes of Bobby, and communicated constantly with Assi through the Facebook group.
But just like Bobby, none of these stories, or people were even real.
As time progressed, Bobby’s interactions with Assi became increasingly controlling, and he became more possessive of Assi.
For instance, Assi said she would refrain from physical contact with her friends, even the female ones, for fear of upsetting Bobby and incurring his wrath.
At the same time, Bobby would experience recurring health problems between 2015 and 2018, often whilst on the phone with Assi, and when the couple were on the verge of a disagreement.
Their conversations would also come to dominate Assi’s life, and eventually Assi got laid off from one of her jobs and she quit the other.
Assi also lost a significant amount of weight and her pallor shocked her friends, some whom Assi eventually fell out with.
Sometime after 2017, the entire deception might have ended had Assi pursued a lead that she happen to see online.
Assi found a photo online of real Bobby with another woman.
This was a picture of the real Bobby, who never knew his identity was being exploited.
But the deception did not end as fake Bobby confessed he had an affair, which left Assi devastated and in no state to question how that could have happened when her boyfriend was supposed to be ill.
Assi contemplated suicide.
She did not follow through, and the ruse went on.
Roping in a private investigator
After several broken promises to meet Assi physically, fake Bobby said he was finally well enough to leave New York to make his way to London in February 2018.
At last, the couple were to finally meet in the flesh in the same city — three years after Bobby confessed his love to Assi, and eight years after they first communicated with each other on Facebook.
An excited Assi even went to the airport in London to pick Bobby up, but to no avail, as Bobby gave the excuse that he was not ready to meet her.
Bobby kept up with his barrage of excuses refusing to see Assi, and at the same time, his “family” told Assi to lay off Bobby and to not push him to meet her.
After all that fruitless back and forth, where the couple never once met despite being in the same city, Assi decided to engage the help of a private investigator to procure Bobby’s address.
At that time, Assi did not even know what she was supposed to be investigating other than to find Bobby.
But she did not know there was a fake Bobby and a real Bobby.
So naturally, only the real Bobby could be found.
One Saturday evening in June 2018, Assi decided to drive to the address that the private investigator gave her, and pulled up outside Bobby’s front door.
The real Bobby’s front door.
The real Bobby opened the door, and was confounded as to what was happening as he did not recognise Assi at all, much to her dismay.
Desperate to jolt Bobby’s memory, Assi began spewing out all the things she got to know about Bobby over the years, and listed all the names of people that the couple both knew.
The confused man who answered the door, did indeed share mutual contacts with Assi, including Bhogal, who is Assi’s younger cousin and the mastermind behind the madness.
But it did not make Assi any less of a stranger to him, albeit one who knew all the ins and outs of Bobby’s life.
Outside of Bobby’s front door, a distraught Assi called Bhogal to turn to her for solace, much like all the previous times that Assi had done during her entire relationship with Bobby.
At one point during their call, Bobby also spoke to Bhogal after Assi handed the phone over to him.
At another juncture, Bhogal told Assi to just leave Bobby alone.
And in the back and forth that ensued, a woman, who is the real Bobby’s wife, came to the door.
Assi concluded at that time Bobby was cheating on her again.
“It was all me.”
Over the phone, Bhogal knew she was speaking to the man that she has been pretending to be.
Unbeknownst to Assi at that time, the real world and the catfish world finally collided.
Bhogal’s deceit finally came to light on Monday, June 11, 2018, when she confessed to Assi that she had been impersonating Bobby the whole time.
Before the confession, Bhogal said she would drive to Assi’s place to work with her.
When she pulled up at Assi’s place, she was seen sitting in the car with brother having an argument.
Bhogal and her brother then went to Assi’s door.
Bhogal said: “It was all me. I was Bobby, and Bobby was me.”
Assi did not understand Bhogal’s words immediately, despite multiple times that Bhogal repeated: “It was all me.”
Bhogal uttered the same line as Assi listed several other names and the truth started to sink in.
Bhogal confessed that she had also pretended to be other people all this time.
It would eventually be revealed that Bhogal impersonated more than 50 individuals in what is very likely the “longest known case of catfishing”.
During the entire confrontation, Assi said Bhogal’s expression lacked empathy and she never apologised: “There was never a sorry.”
Neither did Bhogal explain the reasons for her actions or her motivation to keep up with the deception for more than a decade.
All Bhogal said, according to Assi, was: “I was in a dark place in my life. I’ve ruined my own life too.”
The real motive for catfishing, it turned out, was not even clear.
What’s the situation now
In 2020, Assi brought a civil suit against Bhogal.
Assi went on to win the civil claim against Bhogal in June 2021.
The civil case was settled out of court, and amongst the settlement was an apology letter from Bhogal to Assi, according to Daily Mail.
In the statement issued by her lawyers, Bhogal described the matter as “a family dispute over events that began more than a decade ago, when I was a schoolgirl.”
Bhogal’s statement added that she and Assi are no longer communicating.
Assi is now an advocate of tougher laws against catfishing.