Brian Haas press conference

HAINES CITY — Speaking to the Northeast Polk Chamber of Commerce at the Lake Eva Events Center August 15, State Attorney for the Tenth Judicial Circuit Brian Haas delivered remarks aimed at helping the assembled leaders handle law enforcement matters related to business.

A topic that has been in the news plenty is digital fraud, hacking and malware, something Haas warned attendees to be on guard for.

“Fraud is really something that we’re seeing quite a bit of,” Haas said. “A lot of time when a business, or a citizen, has been ripped off — the money is long gone. It’s too late to recover it a lot of times.”

Haas, whose district includes Polk, Highlands and Hardee counties, stressed the importance for businesses to be proactive and to try and fight off such attacks and scams on the front-end, noting that often times the culprits are “across the world” and hard to track down.

“We try and get out ahead of these things,” Haas said.

The state attorney encouraged training for employees, specifically with regards to suspicious emails and email messaging that otherwise might look legitimate but may actually be hackers trying to attack computer systems. Haas noted examples of cities in Florida such as Lake City who have seen hackers paralyze their computer systems only to demand ransoms that the municipalities have found themselves forced to pay.

Additionally, in light of recent tragedies such as the mass shootings in Texas and Ohio — and especially the bank shooting earlier this year in Sebring, which falls within Haas’ district — the state attorney discussed the reality that businesses have to think about the unthinkable.

“Things have changed — the rules have changed,” Haas said. “Each business needs to come up with a plan for when something like this happens.”

Haas said such plans will need to address access points, evacuation and more. He noted that employers and business owners will need to have a policy on whether they allow employees who are permitted to conceal carry a weapon to do so at work and, in the event that they do, he suggested employers encourage training for such individuals.

Haas spoke about and took questions regarding a handful of other subjects, too, including some recent issues that law enforcement across the state have had with the similarities between cannabis and hemp — the latter of which was recently legalized for commercial purposes.

He led off his remarks, though, making the case for some of the diversion programs his office has implemented, particularly with regard to youth offenders.

“One of the things I think we’re too quick to do is right a child off and say ‘they’re not going to make it’ or ‘they’re not a good kid,’” Haas said, saying the diversion programs have seen success in admonishing some youth offenders while keeping their criminal record clean.

Contact Steven Ryzewski at sryzewski@d-r.media.

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