The longest catfishing case in the history of the internet
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The case of Kirat Assi v Simran Kaur Bhogal (Bobby)
In the first ever successful civil claim for catfishing, our client, a radio presenter, Kirat Assi was catfished for over decade by Simran Kaur Bhogal, a former Barclays investment banker, whom she knew well in real life. In what is believed to be the longest catfishing case in the history of the internet, Simran Bhogal created more than 50 fictitious characters as part of a web of deceit that destroyed the life of her victim.
Some of the online characters that Simran Kaur Bhogal used to control and coerce her victim were real people, whose identity Simran assumed. She created dozens of fictitious social media accounts, which gave credibility to one another. For example, at one time, she invented the death of a distant relative of her victim. She then organised a Facebook Bereavement Page which was joined by 37 different people, all of whom were in fact Simran herself, pretending to be each of the 37 characters.
Simran Kaur Bhogal also became a close personal friend of her victim so whenever her victim confided in her about her suspicion regarding some of the characters who entered her life, Simran provided her victim with personal assurances and in some cases, told her that she had met and spoken to some of the fictitious characters that she had created. She betrayed the trust of her friend when her friend needed her the most
The longest campaign of catfishing deception in the history of the internet began by Simran Kaur Bhogal in 2009 and lasted until 2018. It began when she contacted her victim on Facebook, pretending to be a distant family relative called JJ (who was a real person) and whose identity was stolen by Simran.
There was an extensive interaction between JJ and Simran’s victim on social media until Simran contacted her victim to tell her that JJ had died in Kenya. Simran then contacted her victim again, pretending to be JJ’s older brother, Bobby (also a real person), a consultant cardiologist, and over the coming years she continued to communicate with her victim as Bobby. All along, Simran continued to create new characters to support the new reality she created for her victim and to give credibility to the various fictitious characters.
Over the lengthy period of the catfishing scam, whilst her victim was just getting on with her life, Simran continued to create new characters whilst intensifying the impression that Bobby was becoming emotionally dependent on her victim’s continued support. For example, she falsely told her victim, herself, and through the various impersonated characters enacted by her, that Bobby had been shot in Nairobi and was critically ill in hospital, having suffered loss of memory.
In 2014, her victim learned that Bobby had died in Kenya, and there were tributes and messages relating to his death published on Facebook. The victim was added to a Facebook group chat involving 39 individuals and was asked to contribute words for a eulogy. The victim maintained communication with individuals who she believed to be the friends and family of Bobby in the aftermath of his death and funeral, including some of his closest friends and with his wife, who she was led to believe had suffered serious health problems.
Later, Simran contacted her victim to tell her that she found out that Bobby was in fact alive, under witness protection and that he was paralysed in a hospital in New York. Shortly after, “Bobby” contacted Simran’s victim via a new Facebook profile which was established by Simran for that purpose. Her victim was then informed that Bobby’s wife had left him and that he had attempted suicide and Simran’s victim was the only reason for him to stay alive. From this point onwards, Simran, through the Bobby character that she impersonated, as well as through over 50 other impersonated individuals, continued to emotionally blackmail Harkirat until she brought her to a point of a near mental breakdown.
If we use the scam concocted by Simran Kaur Bhogal in the case of Kirat Assi v Simran Kaur Bhogal as an example of catfishing, whilst this is likely to be the longest catfishing case in the history of the internet, the victim, could have been almost anyone.
The catfishing scam was intricate, organised and very well designed. It required her to work with a high level of sophistication in planning the deception and a high level of dedication, maintaining the catfishing for over a decade. Her victim was not particularly gullible. A unique feature of Simran’s catfishing scam was that she almost seamlessly merged fiction with reality.
As if she directed a movie where she, Simran, was the main character and the one who held all the pieces together and pulled all the strings. Her victim did not stand a chance, because the individual she trusted the most, was the very same person who operated the catfishing scam, leading her up the garden path. The serious health problems suffered by Bobby were a defining feature of his existence over the following years.
There was a series of physical and mental health crises over the years, which caused significant anxiety about Bobby and his health, which had affected Simran’s victim’s work, her studies, her sleep, her home life and her relationships with her family. The deception surrounding the character of Bobby, as acted by Simran, extended to her victim’s friends and family. Bobby demonstrated to her victim that he knew her family, and this inspired her victim to have confidence in Bobby’s existence and in their relationship. Bobby also communicated directly with key individuals in Simran’s victim’s life, including her cousin, her younger brother and her mother.
Why Simran’s catfishing victim did not terminate the relationship as soon as she became suspicious of catfishing
Where the victim of Simran’s catfishing scam discovered traces of the real existence of Bobby online and asked questions about them, the borrowed character of Bobby sought to explain these away. Bobby informed her that these amounted to part of witness protection measures which he was benefiting from.
From the time of her inadvertent discovery of pictures of the real Bobby on holiday with his son in 2016, Simran’s victim began to feel paranoid and fearful. Her experience of the relationship became, increasingly, a negative one, with severe repercussions for her physical and mental health. She shared her distress with her close friend, Simran.
After Bobby told her that he moved back to the UK, but having refused to meet her, Simran’s victim drove to Brighton to visit what she believed was Bobby’s family property. The door was answered by the real Bobby, who, understandably, did not know who she was. His wife and son were also at home, and there was a hugely distressing confrontation between them and the Simran’s victim who was distraught and felt physically sick as it became apparent to her that she had been the victim of an incredibly serious and wide-ranging deception.
The real Bobby threatened to call the Police, adding further to her distress. The victim confided in Simran about her distress and told Simran that she wanted to go to the police to report the fraud. At this point in time, she did not suspect that the entire fraud was committed by Simran. Simran accompanied her victim to the Police station on 10 June 2018 where she urged her not to name or identify her.
Simran’s victim explained to the police what had taken place, and Simran allegedly misled the Police, verifying that what the victim told them about her relationship with Bobby was based in truth, on the basis of her own visits to Bobby in New York. In the aftermath of the visit to the Police, Simran remained with her victim in her car, and then reassured her mother at whilst at her victim’s home that Bobby loved her.
There might be a number of criminal offences involving the activity of catfishing. Catfishing may expose the perpetrator to a range of serious criminal offences. These include breach of the Malicious Communications Act 1998, a range of offences under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (which gives rise to both civil and criminal liability), and the Sexual Offences Act 2003.
Catfishing may also give rise to a number of civil wrongdoings, which by themselves might not be a crime, but which would often give the victim a right to take the catfishing scammer to court and sue for damages. The main civil liabilities, or wrongdoing for catfishing are misuse of the victim’s private information, harassment under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and infringement of the victim’s personal data rights under both the Data Protection Act 2018 and the GDPR.
The case of The case of Kirat Assi v Simran Kaur Bhogal is the longest known catfishing case in the history of the UK, lasting for a decade. The victim, a vulnerable woman, was let down by the criminal justice system, which for some time now, has been too ill equipped and too poorly trained to handle extreme cases of anti-social behaviour crimes that occur online. Catfishing could cause serious mental harm to the victim.
It might also lead to self-harm where the victim feels ashamed, embarrassed and hopeless. Whilst catfishing may affect everyone, it tends to have a more than proportionate impact of female, and particularly on teenagers. If you have been a victim of catfishing, call us and we will help.
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