A woman who was catfished by her cousin for more than 10 years has called for it to be made a criminal offence.
Former radio DJ Kirat Assi, from London, began chatting to a supposed cardiologist named Bobby on Facebook back in 2009.
She vaguely knew Bobby through the Sikh community, and over the years their online messaging evolved into a long-distance relationship.
However, it turned out the person she'd been messaging throughout her thirties wasn't Bobby - it was, in fact, Simran Bhogal, her younger cousin.
Now, having suffered immeasurably over years of deception, Kirat is calling for catfishing - whereby people are lured into relationships through fictional identities - to be made into a specific criminal offence.
Speaking to The Sunday Times, she said: "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.'"
Furthermore, Kirat prefers not to use the term 'catfishing', arguing it undermines the severity of something which 'devastated' her life.
She explained: "I call it online entrapment. 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."
Some of you may have listened to the #podcastseries #SweetBobby by @Tortoise. It’s about what hapened to me, starting in 2009 – it’s shocking, complex, unbelievable, difficult and complicated to tell. @AlexiMostrous you’ve told it brilliantly🙏 #TrueStory https://t.co/2YP7buNXA3— Harkirat Kaur Assi (@JustKirat) November 28, 2021
The damage caused by the deception was in large part to due to the great lengths Simran went to, creating more than 50 fake online profiles and weaving them together to create elaborate stories and dynamics that never really existed.
Simran even killed off Bobby at one point, before bringing him back to life and putting him into witness protection.
All of this had a huge impact on Kirat, who ended up losing weight and was even signed off work with stress.
After finally uncovering the deceit, she went to police, but said her story wasn't taken seriously.
She eventually brought a civil action against her cousin in 2020, which was settled out of court.
The remarkable tale is the subject of six-part podcast, Sweet Bobby.
Kirat said: "She has taken ten years of my life from me, years I will not get back.
"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."
Featured Image Credit: Twitter/@JustKirat