Diving Into Illegal Insider Trading

Diving Into Illegal Insider Trading

Illegal insider trading is the use of confidential corporate information to gain an unfair advantage in the market. The SEC has introduced new rules to prevent it and it's important for investors to understand it to make informed decisions.


Illegal insider trading is a topic that grabs the attention of investors due to its negative impact on them. While legal insider trading exists, comprehending why illegal insider trading is considered a crime is crucial for gaining insights into market dynamics. In this discussion, we explore the concept of illegal insiders, their detrimental effect on the fundamental aspects of a capital market, and the criteria that define an insider.

Insider Trading and Market Transparency

Insider trading involves the use of confidential corporate information to influence a trade before it becomes public knowledge. By utilizing such nonpublic information, individuals attempt to gain an unfair advantage over the broader market.

Transparency is a fundamental principle of a capital market, and trading based on nonpublic information violates this principle. In a transparent market, information is disseminated in a manner that ensures all participants receive it simultaneously or at similar times. In such a market, investors can only gain an advantage by skillfully analyzing and interpreting the available information. This advantage is earned through individual merit and awareness.

When one person engages in trading with nonpublic information, they acquire an unfair advantage that is inaccessible to the general public. This not only undermines fairness but also disrupts the proper functioning of the market. If insider trading were permitted, investors would lose confidence in their disadvantaged position relative to insiders, leading to a decline in investment activity.

SEC Rules to Prevent Illegal Insider Trading

In 2000, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) introduced new rules to prevent insider trading. These rules, called Rule 10b5-1 and Regulation Fair Disclosure (Reg FD), aim to stop the misuse of nonpublic information for trading securities.

Insider trading happens when someone trades securities using important nonpublic information, which goes against their duty to keep it confidential. Material information refers to information that can significantly affect a company's stock price. Examples include announcements of mergers, positive earnings reports, discoveries, upcoming dividends, undisclosed analyst recommendations, and exclusive financial news.

Reg FD ensures fairness by prohibiting companies from selectively sharing information. All external parties, except those within the company, must receive information at the same time. These rules protect the integrity of the securities market and prevent unfair advantages gained through insider trading.

Who Could Be Considered an Insider?

Illegal insider trading involves individuals who possess nonpublic information and use it for personal gain. These individuals, known as corporate insiders, have a fiduciary duty to the company and its shareholders. They are legally obligated to keep such information confidential.

Corporate insiders include CEOs, executives, and directors who have direct access to material information before it becomes public. However, according to the misappropriation theory, certain relationships automatically imply confidentiality. Rule 10b5-2 of the SEC highlights three instances where a duty of trust or confidentiality arises:

  1. When a person agrees to maintain confidentiality.
  2. When a relationship demonstrates a history, pattern, or practice of mutual confidentiality.
  3. When a person receives information from a spouse, parent, child, or sibling (unless it can be proven that confidentiality does not exist in that particular relationship).

Insider Trading and Partners in Crime

Insider trading involves the "tipper" and the "tippee." The tipper is someone who breaches their fiduciary duty by consciously revealing confidential inside information. The tippee is the person who knowingly uses this information to trade, also breaking confidentiality. Both parties usually benefit financially.

For example, if a CEO's spouse shares inside information as gossip with a neighbor, the spouse becomes the tipper. If the neighbor then trades securities based on that information, they are guilty of insider trading. Even if the tippee doesn't trade, the tipper can still be held responsible for disclosing the information.

Proving someone is a tippee can be challenging for the SEC. It's not easy to track the flow of insider information and its impact on trading. Consider a situation where a person follows their broker's advice to trade stocks. If the broker's recommendation is based on undisclosed material information, it's difficult to determine if the person trading was aware of it. Gathering evidence of their knowledge before the trade can be complex.

Overheard Conversations

In some cases, individuals accused of insider trading argue that they simply overheard a conversation. For instance, a neighbor who unintentionally hears a CEO and their spouse discussing confidential corporate information. If the neighbor then trades based on what they overheard, it still violates the law, even though the information was obtained "innocently." The neighbor becomes an insider with a duty to maintain confidentiality as soon as they possess the nonpublic material information.

However, the CEO and their spouse, who did not attempt to profit from their insider knowledge, might not be liable for insider trading. Nevertheless, their carelessness could be seen as a breach of confidentiality.


Illegal insider trading, which relies on chance rather than skill, poses a significant threat to investor confidence in the capital market. Individuals as investors need to have a clear understanding of what illegal insider trading entails. By being informed about this illicit activity, individuals can protect themselves and make informed investment decisions. Additionally, companies in which individuals invest can be negatively impacted by illegal insider trading. By recognizing the significance of this issue, individuals can contribute to maintaining a fair and transparent market environment.

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