A new bill in the S.C. Senate would thankfully give greater teeth to the state’s laws aimed at protecting senior citizens. It’s a wise move by lawmakers, especially with the state’s elderly population expected to double in the next 15 years.

Seniors, particularly those that don’t have a network of friends or family, are certainly targets of scammers. The bill, sponsored by S.C. Sen. Thomas Alexander, R-Walhalla, would strengthen protections for the elderly by updating a 1993 law and increasing penalties for those who abuse or exploit seniors.

S.C. Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, who oversees the state’s Office of Aging, told the Associated Press that his office has repeatedly heard complaints regarding phone and Internet scams as well as patients being defrauded in care facilities. Oftentimes, he noted, the patients are left without their earnings, retirement funds or government checks.

The proposal would require hospitals, for instance, to find out where patients are being taken, and by whom, so law enforcement can ensure they are being properly cared for.

A few South Carolina residents likely dealt with scammers as a result of the snow and ice storms that recently swept across the state.

Aiken Public Safety received several complaints of individuals approaching homes and asking for permission to clean yards, and charging an excessive amount of money to do so.

Sadly, abuse and exploitation sometimes is even generated by family members that take advantage of parents or loved ones. The elderly are also increasingly susceptible to getting scammed because more seniors are choosing to live at home as they get older instead of opting for institutional care.

Fortunately, our community offers a variety of services to assist seniors. Scott Murphy, executive director of the Aiken Area Council on Aging, explained that Aiken has a “wealth of support for a lot of causes here and that’s something we really need to be proud of.”

He added that the Council on Aging is “very supportive of anything that can be done to provide additional layers of protection for our seniors,” noting the new push by the state legislature.

The bill puts the right measures in place to mitigate abuse of the elderly. It increases penalties – forcing people who gain more than $2,500 by exploiting a vulnerable adult or senior to pay a fine of not more than $5,000 and face imprisonment for up to 25 years. Additionally, if someone subjects a vulnerable adult or senior to human trafficking, he or she could be imprisoned for up to 25 years.

The legislation wisely makes the necessary steps to help address the needs of seniors. With aging baby boomers and more retirees expected in the state, the foresight of Alexander and McConnell should be commended.