In late July 2017, senior management at Equifax, a U.S. credit-reporting company, discovered that hackers had stolen the personal data of more than 145 million U.S. customers, including names, birthdates, Social Security numbers, and driver’s license information. In addition, the hackers stole credit card information for more than 200,000 Equifax customers.
If that weren’t bad enough, reports soon surfaced that three top executives, including Equifax’s chief financial officer, sold close to $2 million in shares of company stock days after learning about the breach and more than a month before the company announced the data hack publicly. In a company statement, Equifax says the executives “had no knowledge that an intrusion had occurred at the time they sold their shares.” The day after the company’s announcement about the breach, Equifax’s stock dropped by double digits, and the Department of Justice opened a criminal investigation.
Less than three weeks after the public announcement, Equifax announced its CEO, Richard Smith, would retire, taking a multimillion-dollar payout with him—even after shareholders lost more than $5 billion in stock value after the data breach was acknowledged.
Ethical Dilemma: Is it legal for company executives to sell stock shares for financial gain when they know impending bad news will cause the stock price to plummet? Does this constitute insider trading?
Sources: Verne Kopytoff, “Equifax Board Reviews Executive Stock Sales after Data Breach,” Fortune, http://fortune.com, September 29, 2017; Jen Wieczner, “Equifax CEO Richard Smith Who Oversaw Breach to Collect $90 Million,” Fortune, http://www.fortune.com, September 26, 2017; Tom Schoenberg, Anders Melin, and Matt Robinson, “Equifax Stock Sales Are the Focus of U.S. Criminal Probe,” Bloomberg Markets, https://www.bloomberg.com, September 18, 2017; Liz Moyer, “Suspect Trading in Equifax Options before Breach Might Have Generated Millions in Profit,” CNBC, https://www.cnbc.com, September 8, 2017; Alina Selyukh, “3 Equifax Executives Sold Stock Days after Hack That Wasn’t Disclosed for a Month,” NPR, http://www.npr.org, September 8, 2017; Anders Melin, “Three Equifax Managers Sold Stock Before Cyber Hack Revealed,” Bloomberg News, https://www.bloomberg.com, September 7, 2017.