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Related topics: banks, banking, financial privacy, credit cards, Liz Weston

Chances are, you don't feel close to your bank.

Banks tend to be big and imposing, which can make you feel like a faceless, anonymous number -- just one among the multitudes who deposit and withdraw money there.

But you're not going unnoticed. In fact, your bank is keeping an ever-closer eye on you these days. Tighter credit standards, new ways to combat fraud and an ever-growing pile of monitoring services offered by credit bureaus and other analytics companies means that banks know, or guess, more about you than ever before.

Here are just some of the ways they're tracking you.

1. Transaction scores

Every time you swipe your credit or debit card, the transaction is scored to gauge the risk of fraud, said John Ulzheimer, the president of consumer education at and the author of "You're Nothing But a Number." Where you're shopping, how much you're spending and how that compares with your usual patterns are noted and analyzed. Atypical or high-risk spending patterns can result in a call from the bank's fraud department, a hold on the transaction or even the temporary shutdown of your card.

Liz Weston

Liz Weston

What seems like innocent behavior to you can be highly suspicious to the bank's software. If, for example, you top off your car's gas tank and then head over to Target to stock up, you might trigger a red flag. That's because credit card thieves often try using a card at a gas pump to see if it's active. If it is, they may barrel over to a retailer to use the purloined account to buy electronics and other easily fenced items.

Of course, thieves change their tactics all the time, and bankers constantly tweak their software, so it's hard to predict what could set off a fraud alert. To keep disruptions to a minimum, give your bank plenty of ways to contact you. Make sure it has your current cell number and consider signing up for e-mail or text alerts that can let you know when a problem occurs. Call your bank when you plan to be out of the country and consider giving it a heads-up when you're off to buy electronics of high value, such as a new television or computer system.

2. Behavior scores

Credit scores gauge how a person handles a variety of credit accounts. Behavior scores, by contrast, look at how a person handles an individual financial account. Behavior scores got a bad name a couple of years ago when American Express told an Atlanta businessman his credit line was being cut in part because of where he shopped.

"Other customers who have used their card at establishments where you recently shopped have a poor repayment history with American Express," AmEx's letter to Kevin Johnson said, which led to headlines like "AmEx hates Wal-Mart shoppers." American Express quickly dropped behavior scores from the tools it uses to determine credit lines.

But behavior scores still are widely used as risk-evaluation and marketing tools. On credit accounts, behavior scores look at where and how you spend your money, as well as how you pay your account. (Do you pay in full? Minimum payment only? Sometimes carry a balance, sometimes not? Often late, but never by more than a few days?)

Card issuers can use the scores to, for example, guess whether a missed payment is an anomaly that can be ignored or the start of a default that might trigger them to start calling you daily about when you're going to pay. A sudden switch in spending -- such as starting to take cash advances or spending a lot of time in casinos -- may also send up red flags. Additionally, lenders use behavioral scoring to help target marketing efforts such as who gets low-rate balance transfer offers.

Bankers can use similar scores to monitor how you handle your bank accounts. What the scores tell them may help determine how long you have to wait before you can access deposits (known as "deposit holds"), whether a customer-service representative can waive a fee you don't like and what other products the bank may try to sell you.

Fair Isaac, the creator of the leading FICO credit score, works with banks to create custom behavior scores that monitor bank balances, withdrawal activity and the source of deposits, said Debb Gordon, a senior principal consultant for the company.

A halt in direct deposits, for example, might indicate a customer has lost his job. If the customer has a high behavior score and a high FICO score -- which are good indicators that he or she will find another job soon, Gordon said -- the customer might be offered a payment holiday, with the missed payments being added to the end of a loan. If his scores aren't so high, suggesting a protracted job hunt, the bank could suggest a workout plan or take other measures to reduce its risk.

Banks also may use depositor behavior scores to extend credit to people who may not have a credit history, such as young people or immigrants, Gordon said.

"The score was developed to help the underserved or inconsistently served," Gordon said.

3. Income estimators

The Credit CARD Act of 2009 requires bankers to assess applicants' ability to pay a credit card account, and they're allowed to use analytical tools that guess at potential customers' income.

And "guess" is the operative word, because income-estimation tools are used to extrapolate your pay from factors such as the size of your mortgage and your available credit lines. The estimations aren't precise: Experian said last year that about 85% of the incomes it estimates around $35,000 are in reality only somewhere under $50,000 and that 15% are actually above $50,000.

It's not that your income is necessarily all that secret. Huge employment databases exist that list people's names, employers and salaries. But not everybody is in these databases, the information can be outdated, and using an income estimator is typically cheaper, so bankers increasingly use this tool, along with others, to evaluate you.

4. Wealth estimators

Another factor that determines your ability to pay is your overall wealth -- your home equity, savings and other assets. But bankers are also interested in ferreting out this information for marketing purposes, so they can reach out to potential customers and pitch more-appropriate products to the customers they have.

Credit bureau Equifax made a big move in this arena when it bought IXI in 2009. About 100 banks and other financial institutions submit information about individuals' investments and assets to IXI's database, which represents more than 40% of individual invested assets in the U.S. The data are anonymous, so the individuals involved aren't personally identified, but it's aggregated by ZIP code to give banks an idea of average wealth levels. The database is also used to construct models to estimate individual wealth.

5. Collection services

As you've learned, bankers have software that can help them assess whether a missed payment was likely an oversight or if you're really in over your head. Once it's clear you've stopped paying, bankers can use other tools, including software that predicts how likely they are to be able to collect from you and programs that monitor your financial situation, looking for signs of improvement -- such as a new employer or debt levels that start to decline.

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Credit bureau Experian, for example, touts its Collection Triggers program with the tag line "When nonpaying customers resurface, be the first to know." The program offers daily monitoring of credit reports for a customizable set of triggers including new contact information or indications of increased ability to pay debts, which can help subscribing lenders "be the first to the (debtors') door for wallet share" -- in other words, the first to ask for repayment.

Now, the use of this and other monitoring tools isn't universal, and banks (and credit unions) often use the same tools in different ways. But it's a safe bet that your bank is using several tools to keep tabs on you and to extrapolate the various risks and opportunities presented by your behavior. That may be good news if you carefully manage your accounts, but woe betide you if you mess up. Remember, Big Banker is watching.

Liz Weston is the Web's most-read personal-finance writer. She is the author of several books, most recently "The 10 Commandments of Money: Survive and Thrive in the New Economy" (find it on Bing). Weston's award-winning columns appear every Monday and Thursday, exclusively on MSN Money. Join the conversation and send in your financial questions on Liz Weston's Facebook fan page.