The Securities and Exchange Commission takes a fine-toothed comb through any suspicious activity, but rarely do allegations include a suspect searching online how to avoid the agency.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology research scientist Fei Yan was arrested Wednesday on federal charges of insider trading. Prosecutors say Yan searched "how sec detect unusual trade" before he bought numerous stocks and options that netted him around US$120,000 (S$166,000) in illicit profits.
Yan also searched for phrases such as "insider trading in an international account."
The SEC alleges that Yan's profits came from confidential information he obtained from his wife, who was an associate at international firm Linklaters. The London-based law firm announced it suspended Yan's wife, and will be cooperating with the SECs investigation.
Yan bought holdings in Mattress Firm and Stillwater Mining, both companies his wife's firm was working with on acquisition deals. After the acquisitions were made public, Yan sold. His wife is not listed in the charges.
To hide his illegal activity, prosecutors say, the Chinese national placed the trades in a brokerage account under his mother's name.
"Yan attempted to evade detection by researching prior SEC cases against insider traders and using a brokerage account in a different name, but we identified the profitable trades in deals advised by the same law firm and traced them back to him," said Joseph G. Sansone, co-chief of the SEC Enforcement Division's Market Abuse unit.
MIT spokeswoman Kimberly Allen confirmed Yan was employed in MIT's Research Laboratory of Electronics as a postdoctoral associate.
Following his arrest in Massachusetts, Yan was charged with securities fraud and wire fraud. After a hearing in federal court in Boston, authorities released Yan on a $500,000 unsecured bond.
- Reuters contributed to this report.