Charlotte Connection, a Charlotte influencer account whose bio reads "Contact us to promote your local business," recently announced it was developing a Magnises-style VIP card for the Charlotte market. The post was liked by over 400 of the account's 10,000 followers.
Several of the followers have 0 posts and 0 followers, indicating they are likely purchased bots.
The caption reads: "VIP PASS! This one little card will save you thousands of dollars in Queen City. (Coming Soon)."
No other details, such as legal structure, function, or corporate/business backing was included. Federal law requires that sponsored content on Instagram must be clearly disclosed.
"You scan a QR code on the back and a list of businesses will pop up on your phone. These businesses will offer a certain discount," Trent Lloyd of Charlotte Connection told us via email. "At this moment we are still strategizing."
Charlotte Connection did not respond to our questions regarding legal structure or corporate backing. In an Instagram comment, Lloyd urged me: "Get to know us first friend."
One Instagram user in the comments referred to the concept as "Magnises 2.0."
The Magnises card-based membership program distributed high-quality debit cards connected to a member's bank account and promised access to discounts and VIP experiences. The card faced legal challenges and has been described as a scam.
Its creator Billy McFarland is currently serving six months in prison for wire fraud related to the disastrous Fyre Festival.
Another Instagram user, food influencer CLTDesserts, compared the card to EatWorkPlay's "Charlotte passport" coupon book.
The coupon book was marketed to EatWorkPlay's 76,000 Instagram followers, and sought deals from local businesses. It was priced at $24.99 and boasted at least $1,000 in savings. As part of a series of investigations into EatWorkPlay by Charlotte Magazine, it was revealed that several people who paid for the passport had never received it.
Charlotte Connection deleted the comment from CLTDesserts.
"Charlotte Connection was upset I called them out based on a familiar situation that led to EWP's downfall," CLTDesserts explained in an Instagram message. "After EWP's gala/passport concerns, I wanted to comment and express the similarity so people can take a harder look at things before buying into it. It takes someone to question things to prevent scams from happening.”
Other concerned comments may have been deleted.
"There were a few other comments made by other people saying something similar."
Currently, no comments referencing EatWorkPlay appear in the comments of the post.
"We do not won’t (sic) your negativity on our page," Charlotte Connection explained in the comments of their post.
With the unfurling legal sketchiness from EatWorkPlay and BrewPublik both coming to to light in 2019, one must wonder why Charlotteans are so easy to scam.
Part of it is the high-fiving, back-patting, politicized nature of our media and influencer ecosystem. Platforms trade access for kind words in a spider's web of incestuous handshake agreements coordinated in the smokey backrooms that are Instagram DMs. And the fly caught in that web is the consumer.
Influencers, businesses, and media organizations have more to gain from being complicit in a scam than in calling it out.
Media is meant to be the watchdog of the powerful, and social media is meant to be a bastion of free speech. However, increasingly in Charlotte, the media is in the pocket of the powerful, and social media influencers are too intricately tied to the businesses to be trusted.
Charlotte Connection's VIP card, even if innocent, exists in a lineage that is hazy at best and fraudulent at worst.