In an era of soaring executive compensation have come revelations about an even more insidious and probably illegal form of corporate kleptomania: options backdating. Such rights to buy stock are often granted to a firm’s officers, directors and other employees. They give the recipients the ability to purchase shares in the future for a set price, which is typically fixed on the day the options are granted.

But recent studies and disclosures have shown that many corporate officials have been clandestinely cherry-picking the exercise dates of their options by changing them from their grant dates to other points when the shares were trading at a lower value. Often this entailed simply backdating the grants. But other times it appears to have involved even more sophisticated ways of gaming the system. Those include forward-dating the grant dates to take advantage of market swings and keeping them open so that the holders could pick the lowest point in the stock’s history to buy it.

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