A Connecticut woman has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for scamming would-be travelers. Virginia McCollin, 55, was accused of swindling $144,000 from 114 people who had signed up with her for European vacations in 2002 and 2003. McCollin pleaded guilty to first-degree larceny in November.

"Ms. McCollin knowingly engaged more than one hundred people in fake group travel deals and made off with their money after telling them the trips were cancelled," Consumer Protection Commissioner Edwin R. Rodriguez said. "Many of her victims had encouraged friends to join the trips because McCollin promised them discounts, while others were told they'd get a discount if they paid the full amount in advance."

Consumer protection officials began getting complaints in late 2003 from people who had each lost between $300 and $3,000 on McCollin's schemes. The department followed up on 22 written complaints and collaborated with the Windsor, Conn., Police Department on a full investigation of McCollin's business practices.

Rodriguez said this case illustrates some very important do's and don'ts for anyone planning travel, Rodriguez said:

• Don't pay a travel agent with cash or a check. If possible use a credit card, since you can dispute the charges within 60 days if problems occur.

• Do consider purchasing travel insurance, but be cautious when buying. Review the proposed policy carefully to see exactly what you are buying. You may want to purchase travel insurance from a third party, and be sure it includes coverage for the travel company's possible bankruptcy or failure to deliver on a trip. Also, check to see if the tour operator will pay the claims themselves or if an insurance company underwrites the coverage. Before buying, review your existing homeowner's policy, and credit card and auto travel club policies - don't pay for duplicate coverage.

• Do shop carefully for a travel agent or tour operator. You should seek referrals from friends who have successfully booked trips with a travel professional. You might also want to search on TravelSense (www.travelsense.org) a consumer website developed by the American Society of Travel Agents.

"I am satisfied with the outcome of this case, knowing that Ms. McCollin will have time to reflect on the overall wisdom of her deceptive actions," Rodriguez said. "I commend the department's Trade Practices Division, the Windsor Police Department and the Chief State's Attorney's Office for bringing this case to justice."