Town Crier: A Montclair Christmas story moral — trust, but verify


Montclair can seem like a small town wrapped in a big city. Here’s a little story to illustrate: It was just before Christmas, when shoppers were scurrying to get through their checklists. Reader Conrad Bassett was scurrying too. He’d just been to his bank and was checking a transaction online — when what to his wondering eyes should appear but nine unauthorized charges.

“It turns out a woman picked up my card … (which Bassett had accidentally left at the bank) and charged nearly $1,000 before I discovered it missing and canceled it,” he said.

The quick-thinking Montclair resident raced back to Montclair Village to let eight merchants know what had happened.

“I go to one store, and they only remember some woman buying something at about that time. I go to a second store, and they do not remember anything peculiar,” he recounts. But at the third store he visits — lo and behold — the scofflaw appears. ‘The lady goes up to the clerk to buy a sweater … and she has my card and is trying to use it again.”

What happened next is what I like to call an “Andy from Mayberry” moment. The manager told the woman to stay put until police arrived — and she did. Meanwhile, Bassett rounded up a gaggle of the violated merchants and brought them back, face to face, with the culprit.

“The police ask me if I want to press charges,” Bassett said, “and it would be a felony for using a stolen credit card.” Since the woman was 68 and seemingly not in good health, Bassett did the compassionate thing — he deferred to the merchants — the ones who were really “out the money” because they’d accepted the card without checking the identification. Here’s how they chose to handle it:

“The police (three of them) marched her around … and she had to pay for everything herself,” he said. The toys and the clothes and the wine and the cheese — the woman had to shell out the dough for all the goodies she thought would be free.

And when it was over, Bassett got a follow-up call from police confirming “everyone had been made whole and she would not be going to jail, but she had to pay for all of these things. And no,” he was assured, “she cannot go back and try to return these things because she had to face every merchant.”

With time to reflect in this season of joy, Bassett has uncovered the moral of the story. Trust but verify — especially if something seems fishy.

“Not one merchant asked for her ID,” Bassett laments, adding “she did not look like a Conrad, I can assure you.”

Still, he said, “I guess all has ended well … sort of a Christmas story.”

Got news? You can reach Ginny Prior by email at or on the web at http://www.


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