Our reporter decides to answer one of those “Earn money from your photos!” comments on his Instagram page.

Spend any time on parts of the Internet where people can freely post comments and you’ll no doubt come across someone offering the chance to “earn big money working at home” or “get $500 a month doing nothing!” It’s something many of us just let slip by, but haven’t you ever wondered what would happen if you actually went down that rabbit hole?

Our writer P.K. Sanjun did and decided to reply to a post on his Instagram account asking: “Why not make money from your photos?” Not only wondering if he could make income from his pictures, he was really interested to see how this whole network of posters could possibly make money from him making money from his photos.

It all began last December when the following comment was made on an image of fried chicken P.K. posted on Instagram.

“Beautiful photo, isn’t it? Why not turn that wonderful post into money? If you know the way you can absolutely do that. I look forward to hearing from you.”

Aside from the amazing promise of money for Instagram posts, it was an odd comment considering the image was of “girl’s sweat flavored fried chicken” – not exactly a post anyone would describe as “beautiful” or “wonderful.”

Knowing full well that this must be some type of scam, PK was still intrigued by how they would try to convince him he could make money this way. Even if it turned out to be a nightmare, he would still have something interesting to write about, so it was win-win.

First he checked the account of the poster, who we’ll refer to as Ms. Sato. Her Instagram stats seemed human-like: 120 posts, over 2,000 followers, and following over 6,000. If ever there was a time to do this, now seemed like a good one, so he sent Ms. Sato a direct message.

“Thank you for contacting me. I am writing you because I am very interested in how to make money from posting photos.”

However, there was no reply.

P.K. thought for sure that whoever was behind Ms. Sato would jump at this willing victim who was just begging for whatever they were pulling…but there was silence. P.K. got nervous and regretted not removing the fact that he writes for a blog on his Instagram profile. Perhaps she saw it and decided not to reel him in.

It wasn’t until three days later that he got a reply.

“Thanks! If you’re still interested, can we connect on Line? Just search [name omitted].”

P.K. replied that he would, but then realized that it was getting dangerously close to the busy holiday season. He figured it would be best to put off this adventure until the following year.

Twenty days after getting a reply from Ms. Sato, P.K. decided to finally learn how to make money from his Instagram posts. He looked up Ms. Sato on the messaging app Line and sent her a message asking to teach him the way.

Considering the gap since their last contact, P.K. expected a confused reaction to his sudden request along the lines of “Who the hell are you?” However, within two minutes he was lovingly greeted by his old friend Ms. Sato.

“Thank you for contacting me. If you are interested in hearing about it, can you tell me your age and where you live?”

Her reaction was a little odd, as if she knew exactly who he was, and yet needed to ask questions that could easily have been learned from P.K.’s Instagram profile. Before he could consider it more, she threw a fastball invitation: “Why don’t you come to a briefing session?”

P.K. reflexively agreed and then gave more personal information. He was wary about handing over details such as his phone number, but he didn’t want to jeopardize his infiltration with a fake number.

Ms. Sato then instructed P.K. to look up another “official” Line account to set up his briefing session. This account sent him a flood of lengthy messages all with the simple gist that he was invited to a Smartphone Affiliates Briefing Session.

What that was, he had no idea.

On the day of the Smartphone Affiliates Briefing Session, PK received a Line message asking if he was still going to attend. He said yes and headed over to the multipurpose office building in which it was to be held.

P.K. had expected it to be a one-on-one session because that would make it more difficult for him to refuse whatever sales pitch they were about to throw at him. So he was relieved to see that there were already 15 or so people, ages 20 to 60, there ahead of him…relieved and slightly confused because it was 2 p.m. on a weekday.

He took a seat in the back row and waited for the Smartphone Affiliate Briefing Session – the meaning of which he still had no clue – to begin.

Standing at the front of the room was a young man with a slight build whom we’ll call Mr. Kirishima. He looked serious but also laid-back, supported by a certain air of confidence. He started the briefing session by writing his name on the whiteboard and then starting up a projector.

Mr. Kirishima introduced himself and his explained his credentials of having graduated from the economics department of a very prestigious school. He then said that the briefing would be broken into two parts; the first lasting 80 minutes and the second 60 minutes. He added that if anyone wasn’t interested after the first 20 minutes, then they were welcome to leave.

Mr. Kirishima didn’t have the frantic energy of an infomercial pitchman. Quite the opposite, he was calm and matter-of-fact about what he was saying. All throughout his speaking he repeated his passive-aggressive stance that no one there had to listen to what he was about to say.

“I will just tell you the information. It is up to you to decide.”

And finally, PK was about to learn what being a smartphone affiliate to make money from Instagram posts was all about…


Mr. Kirishima began going into detail over the state of online casinos in the world and Japan. He talked knowledgeably about the current state of legalizing gambling in the country and what it could mean for the online casino business here.

Normally this would set off warning bells, but not for P.K. because he knew some people who did online casino referrals. It was actually not a bad deal because rather than making a single commission of selling one product, the affiliate gets a percentage of the users’ spending every time they visit the site. It was indeed possible to make a neat little bit of cash this way.

Mr. Kirishima was coming up to the end of the first half when suddenly he stopped and flashed P.K. a sharp glare.

“Yes, you in the back row on the right. If you are feeling sleepy you can go home. This is a business opportunity that may change your life. How about it? Will you grab the opportunity that you are seeking? Or will you go home?”

P.K. was a little startled to get singled out like that and felt the piercing eyes of Mr. Kirishima along with the discomforting gaze of all the other participants. He did not leave though. This was probably just a practical example of Mr. Kirishima’s ongoing theme that, “You can decide to leave any time you want.”

P.K.’s chastising marked the halfway point of the seminar. There was a five-minute break, but everyone stayed in their seats the whole time. Afterward, Mr. Kirishima resumed, but there was something different about him. His calm and logical demeanor seemed to be gradually eroding.

He began to explain their business system which had multiple “plans” including a free plan and different types of paid plans. Then, with a growing intensity he started channeling Alec Baldwin’s character from Glengarry Glen Ross.

“See this? I am wearing a Rolex Daytona right now. I was in Singapore until just yesterday.”

Image: Wikipedia/Terence Ong

He then explained that affiliates introduce players to the online casino and get a piece of their spendings, and if they can introduce other affiliates they would get a piece of their earnings as well. P.K. wouldn’t say it was a pyramid scheme flat out…but it certainly seemed both pyramidy and schemey.

Mr. Kirishima went on in an increasingly agitated way to say that anyone who joins would be required to move 300 euros or 40,000 yen (US$370) a month in order to make profit. All the while he interjected with stories of other affiliates who have bought multiple condos and his own future travel plans.

Then he got P.K.’s attention by saying, “I want to be clear that this is NOT a pyramid scheme. Let me tell you why!”

“Finally,” thought P.K. and awaited a reason that this was a legitimate business…

“The major difference between this and a pyramid scheme is the ‘paid plan.’ You see, with pyramid schemes if you don’t move enough products then your ranking goes down and you earn less money. But if you pay a one time fee of 1,550 euros, then your ranking is guaranteed for life! That’s a small price to pay for a lifetime of security isn’t it?”

P.K. was less than impressed. Mr. Kirishima managed to actually make P.K. more suspicious at that point. However, the skilled showman that Mr. Kirishima was, he laid out his proposal and now had to drive the sale home. He reiterated his “you decide” mantra, but by this point it had morphed into “You decide how much money you want to make!!”

At this point the informatively breezy, “leave-anytime-you-want,” atmosphere of the briefing was a distant memory. Mr. Kirishima had worked himself up into the frenzy of an evangelical preacher and started including audience participation, asking others, “Look me in the eye and tell me, how much do you want to earn?!”

To PK’s surprised voices from the group began shouting out, “About 500,000 yen!” and “I want 1 million yen if I can!” Mr. Kirishima fired back at them, “Do you want a Hermes bag? You want security in this life don’t you?! Isn’t that why you’ve come here today?!”

Now it was time for his final play:

“This has all been meaningless unless you decide now! Those who cannot make a choice have no ability to seize an opportunity!! Won’t you regret not spending 200,000 yen to change your life? It’s pointless to say, ‘I want to think about it.” You WILL miss this chance! And you want to consult someone? Decide for yourself for once in your life!!

If you have a credit card, you can pay with that. Not only that, we will refund the full amount up to 20 days from signing the contract! Sounds fair, doesn’t it? I cannot fathom someone overlooking an opportunity like this! Should I repeat myself? If you do not like it, we will refund the full amount in 20 days. Tell me again why you won’t do this?!”

P.K. felt like applauding, but it would have been rude. He was thoroughly impressed by the show, however. The way Mr. Kirishima tied the whole “you decide” theme together at the end was quite smooth. P.K. even felt himself getting a little into the spirit of the business. Who knows, had he been feeling unsatisfied with his life at that moment, maybe he would have got totally caught up in it.

With the briefing coming to a breathtaking close the participants all started to get up and head over to the contract signing section. It was then that P.K. understood why it wasn’t a one-on-one briefing. Looking at everyone else do it, he would have felt more comfortable joining up himself. And in the opposite way, he felt kind of like he was the one guy missing out by not signing a contract.

Luckily, he didn’t feel that bad about it and managed to duck out quickly while pretending to walk over to the contract area.

After leaving the Smartphone Affiliate Briefing Session, P.K. decided to contact a guy he knew who used to work for a pyramid scheme a long time ago, and ask if that’s really what he experienced. After telling him the story, P.K. remarked that he was surprised at how many people actually attend these seminars.

“Yeah, most of them were probably ‘sakura,'” he replied, “If there had been less that 15 people I’d say that all of them were sakura.” He went on to explain that “sakura” were plants paid by the organizer to pretend to be eager participants. “Think about it,” the friend said laughing, “twenty middle-aged people gathering on a weekday afternoon for some shady seminar? I doubt it.”

The realization came crashing down on P.K. and suddenly several peculiar things about that day made perfect sense. When he had entered the building, one woman who also attended zoomed right past him and up to the office like she knew exactly where she was going…like she had been there before.

Then there was the stranger who sat right next to him at the briefing. Who does that? And of course, the reason Mr. Kirishima singled P.K. out halfway through the seminar – P.K. was probably the only person he had been talking to the whole time.

P.K.’s acquaintance couldn’t say for absolute certain that it was a pyramid scheme, but it certainly reminded him of one. Probably, Mr. Kirishima was an affiliate of a larger group with whom he would share a percentage of the 300 monthly euros spent in the online casino. However, the big catch is the “paid plan” in which the newcomer hands over 200,000 yen ($1,800), all of which probably goes directly to Mr. Kirishima.

When P.K. made his reservation, he noticed that six briefings were held in a day. This meant that even if only one real participant came to each briefing, Mr. Kirishima still stood to pocket in the neighborhood of 900,000 yen ($8,200) on a good day after paying for the office space, staff, and sakura.

It was amazing to PK that this whole world existed beyond those little annoying Instagram posts, but at least now he knew how it all worked. There was just one lingering thing that bothered him, so he asked, “I gave them my phone number, do you think its okay?”

“Well, that depends if you consider it being sold to a sketchy mailing list, ‘okay.’ Hahaha!”

Images: SoraNews24 (unless otherwise noted)
Mr. Kirishima illustration: Shoko Inaba

[ Read in Japanese ]