The backdating scheme involved moving an effective date for the exercise of stock options from when the options were 'out of the money' to a date that made the options 'in the money' to allow certain executives to exercise their options profitably.
Companies such as Comverse, Verisign, F5 Networks, Intuit and Mc Afee - as well as Home Depot, Michael's Stores and United Health Group, to name a few - all engaged in this fraudulent activity to varying degrees and were forced to pay fines and penalties and conduct time-consuming and expensive restatements of their books.
Since the advent of stock option backdating, corporate policies have moved first toward a posture of encouraging backdating as a standard business practice, but then toward a posture of avoidance as public scandals emerged and investigations into fraudulent or dishonest business practices increased despite a commonly held belief that backdating was an acceptable and legal practice.
In the modern business world, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act has all but eliminated fraudulent options backdating by requiring companies to report all options issuances within 2 days of the date of issue.
However, in late 2005 and early 2006, the issue of stock options backdating gained a wider audience.
Numerous financial analysts replicated and expanded upon the prior academic research, developing lists of companies whose stock price performance immediately after options grants to senior management (the purported dates of which can be ascertained by inspecting a company's Form 4 filings, generally available online at the SEC's website) was suspicious.
The other major way that backdating can be misleading to investors relates to the method by which the company accounts for the options.
Until very recently, a company that granted stock options to executives at fair market value did not have to recognize the cost of the options as a compensation expense.Cases of backdating employee stock options have drawn public and media attention.According to a study by Erik Lie, a finance professor at the University of Iowa, more than 2,000 companies used options backdating in some form to reward their senior executives between 19.For instance, public companies generally grant stock options in accordance with a formal stock option plan approved by shareholders at an annual meeting.Many companies' stock option plans provide that stock options must be granted at an exercise price no lower than fair market value on the date of the option grant.It was forced to restate earnings by recognizing a stock-based expense increase of 3 million between 19, after allegedly manipulating its stock options grants for the benefit of its senior executives.