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There is not even an allegation of self-enrichment, or self-dealing." Q: That's backdating. The shares increase in value and--presto--the options are worth more.

It works like this: If a CEO expects to make a new product announcement, he could allocate himself options when the stock is valued at $20. Attorney Kevin Ryan said the task force will be investigating spring-loading as well.

(The options would be worthless if the stock fell to, say, $7.) Think of options as coupons you can sell.

If you have a coupon to buy a Ferrari for $110,000, and the market price of the car is $120,000, your coupon is worth $10,000.

Even if grant dates are fixed and happen at the same time every year, there's still room for shenanigans. There's an exception in the tax code, however, for "performance-based compensation," which includes stock options.

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